Jared in Israel

Greetings friends!

I have arrived in Israel…after a very long flight, including a stopover in London for a few hours and some Crumpets. (it’s not a cookie, it’s a newton, and we can’t be proper all the time).

I arrived in Israel at 5:30 am with my dad (who, by the way is insane, I think). We rented a car and drove an hour north toward a town called Netanya near which lies a lovely place called Kibbutz Maabarot. Upon arrival at the kibbutz, we were greeted by the smell of cow dung and my cousin Hagi (he’s the lucky guy in charge of milking cows here and the one kind enough to allow me to use his computer). By the way, a kibbutz, for those of you who do not know, is a self-sufficient socialist-based collective living community. There are about 150 throughout Israel. Some are nice, some are dumps. Mine is on the nicer side, but it still smells like cows. That’s not a familiar smell if you if you are a new yorker like me. The weather is nice…actually on the chilly side for Israel, and there is talk of snow tomorrow! Unheard of!

After catching a couple of hours of sleep, me, my dad and aunt and uncle drove to Jaffa, the ancient port city right next to modern Tel Aviv, to visit the Balkan Tourist office and arrange the next portion of our trip…to Bulgaria. Should be exciting. After figuring out that we will be flying out next Monday to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, we treated ourselves to some good old fashion Humus, Pita and Kebab (little balls of hamburger…good stuff) and “chips” (those are basically greasy French fries)

It’s now about 8:00 pm and I am pretty tired…but having some coffee to keep me up long enough for a game of chess with my cousin.

I will write periodically like this to everyone on my list….let me know if you don’t want to live vicariously through me and I’ll take ya off! 🙂

Till next time, “Lehitraot!” (“See Ya” in Hebrew)

Shalom,

Jared

Jared in Israel – Part Deux

Shalom Chaverim! (This means “Hello Friends” in Hebrew … go ahead and say that next time you are around a big group of Jews. You’ll score some points!)

Thanks to everyone for the overwhelming influx of responses to my “update”! I am trying to respond to everyone individually, but please forgive me if I am not able to do so. My access to this computer is limited, and it will be even more sparse when in Bulgaria, which I am finding out is a rather backward country that missed the last 50 years of advances.

Day Two:  I got drafted into the army, handed my M16, and sent to Lebanon to fight the Hezbollah (a group of Lebanese “militants” who are fighting a guerilla war with Israeli soldiers occupying a southern portion of their country for security purposes, so they say). Just kidding! I wasn’t drafted, but if anyone follows the news, the big story over here is that Israel decided to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon by July, if they cannot reach a peace agreement with Syria. Ironically, Syria doesn’t want this to happen (they are the main power broker in Lebanon), because it would decrease the leverage they have over Israel in negotiations for a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights (territory that Israel won from Syria in the 1967 6-day war). For more info on this just search for Israel on Yahoo, and you’ll find plenty of good stuff.

Today I woke up at 2:45 am Israeli time. Let me tell you that jet lag is a real problem, and I am basically losing my mind from lack of sleep. I killed the early morning strumming softly on my guitar so as not to wake my hosts. Thank God I brought my guitar.

I went downstairs to forage for food, only to find my father awake as well. We shared our first game of chess together, then treated to an Israeli breakfast of bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. Israeli cuisine is quite good. Those of you who frequent the falafel places in the village are experiencing a pale likeness to the goods over here.

My father and I decided to take a drive, which ended up being an all day event. If you look at a map of Israel, the town I am near is called Netanya, which is about an hour north from Tel Aviv on the coast. Israel is a very small country, roughly the size of New Jersey, with a population of about 6 million, mostly crowded into the dense Tel Aviv region.

We drove from our Kibbutz to the Galilee (for my Christian readers, yep, it’s where Jesus lived and did his thang). We ended up in a city called Tiveria, or in English, Tiberias, named after the Roman Emperor Tiberias. This is a beautiful city sitting on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, or the Kinneret, Israel’s second largest internal body of water, next to the Dead Sea that it shares with the Jordan.

We dined at a touristy, overpriced restaurant, but good Humus and some fresh fish. From Tiveria, we took a drive up to the Golan Heights, the territory in dispute with Syria. My father fought in the 6-day war to capture the Golan from the Syrians, and he wanted to see it one more time before it returns to Syrian hands, which it most likely will in an eventual agreement. Check out a wine called Yarden, which is made from vineyards on the Golan.

From the Golan, we drove straight across the country to the coast in just an hour and a half. It’s that small that you can traverse it so quickly. We passed through Haifa, Israel’s main seaport city where most of the shipping comes and goes. Then from there, we drove back down the coast to Netanya and the Kibbutz.

More about a Kibbutz. I got a question on the philosophy behind Kibbutz life. The basic philosophy behind kibbutz living is “everyone does what they can to contribute to the collective, and everyone takes what he or she needs from the collective”. All property is collectively owned, and most Kibbutzim (plural) are in the business of producing something. My kibbutz produces various drugs, baby food, dog food, avocados, milk, and cheese. In recent years, the inherent social values of some kibbutzim have slipped toward capitalism and private ownership, but others struggle to resist the tempting global market and retain their traditional ideals.

Thanks for reading. Please pass these emails to friends and share them with anyone who may be interested in what I am doing. Again, I want to hear from everyone, and if you have any questions, please ask and I will do my best to answer!

Until next time,

Jared

Jared in Israel – Part Trois

Once again, I am lucky enough to have access to the Internet here, so I will write as much as I can while I have the ability to do so. Keep in mind, I am doing this for my own benefit as well, because this will be sort of a journal of my travel experiences, which I am very happy to share with you, my friends and readers.

Right now, I am sitting in an Internet cafe in Jerusalem, right outside the old city in the Russian compound. It is amazing to be back here, even though I have been to Israel and Jerusalem so many times before. It always stirs within me the deepest emotions of connection and roots. What can I say? I love it here!

I stole my dad’s rental car, after promising to drive safe and not talk to strangers, and drove to Jerusalem by myself. That was interesting, never having driven in Israel alone. Let me tell you, these people are CRAZY drivers. When you are stopped at a red light, the light turns yellow before it turns green, and they slam their horns yelling at you to go even before you are allowed to. More people die of car accidents here than of terrorist attacks.

Jerusalem is beautiful. This evening I met my old friend Shlomi near the “Mishbier”, which is a landmark in the city center that everyone knows of. It’s basically a glorified indoor flea market next to a very tall building visible from all of Jerusalem.

I was starving, so I had to go right away to McDonald’s for some authentic Israeli cheeseburgers (Shlomi wasn’t hungry yet, so I had to have something to tide me over). I know my way around here pretty well, so I led the way to the Old City (I am speaking of the ancient portion of Jerusalem when I say “Old City”). It is enclosed within the most amazing walls. It is such a beautiful sight, especially at night when it’s all lit up.

Jerusalem is divided into two sections – east and west. The Old City was part of the eastern section, which was captured by Jordan in 1948 and held by them until the 6-day war in 1967 when Israel took the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem. The Old City is the source of one of the biggest disputes ever over such a small piece of territory. Within its walls there are some of the holiest sites to the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

For the Jews, it contains the Western Wall that they regard as the last remnant of their ancient Temple. They gather there constantly for prayer and meditation. For the Christians, it includes the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering”), the path taken by Jesus to his eventual crucifixion, as well as the church of the Holy Sepulcher, enclosing the site many Christians believe the crucifixion and burial took place. For Islam, the city contains the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site to Islam from which Moslems believe the prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven for a little tour. The city is under a major dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel captured it in 1967 and annexed it, vowing never again to relinquish hold on the city. The Palestinians, however, regard the eastern section as the future capital of the emerging state of Palestine. So, that presents a bit of a problem when one side holds the other side’s coveted prize. We shall see what happens.

We walked all around the Arab markets, where you can find some of the most interesting cultural items, as well as the standard touristy useless stuff. You can bargain as much as you want here. Never pay what they ask, if you manage to find your way to these markets.

After a dinner of “Laffa” (a giant flat bread containing chicken, humus, salads, and “chips”) at this fine cafe, Shlomi patiently waits for me to finish this update. Tonight I shall have my first stay in a Youth Hostel on this trip….yay!

Shalom,

Jared

Jared in Israel – Part Quatre

Greetings from Tel Aviv!

Have you heard of it?  Of course you have….its one of those cities that gets mentioned in the news a lot. Remember back in the Gulf War 10 years ago, when Iraq was shooting scud missiles at Israel? Most of missiles landed in the Tel Aviv region. That was a scary time…people had to walk around with gas masks readily available in case there was a scud attack. They also had to build sealed rooms in their apartments to avoid airborne chemicals that was potentially contained within Iraqi missiles. What a way to live your life.

Israel is a country that has basically been under siege since its foundation. They have fought 5 wars with their neighbors against tremendous odds and managed to stay alive in the midst of a very difficult environment.

Everyone in Israel enters the army at age 18. Men go for 3 years or so. Women go for a year and half. In America, at age 18, it would be unthinkable for the average person to go to the army.  Of course, some do, but it’s a personal choice. Many are caught up with deciding on a college to attend, obtaining a job, parental pressures, and so forth. Young adults here are fighting a guerilla war in Lebanon, or patrolling the Gaza Strip raiding terrorist factions.  What a different type of existence.

When I was in Jerusalem staying at the Youth Hostel, there were many soldiers staying there as well. A whole unit of soldiers, called the “Golani” Brigade were in Jerusalem to serve time patrolling the streets of the city in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks, which are always a looming threat here. By the way, my first night in a hostel was not so great. For some reason, the sleeping problem was still there, and it was compounded by the “strange bed” syndrome. I guess I will have to get used to that. 

It’s quite common to walk around and see young men and women in uniform carrying machine guns. Yet people walk around freely, and the cities are bustling like any city with a thriving culture and economy.

So, tonight I am in Tel Aviv staying with my cousin, Sharon. He has an apartment right near Rabin Square, where the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was slain by a fellow Jew who did not agree with his peace moves. This country is quite divided, politically.

The parliamentary government is so fragmented that no one party can gain a clear majority in the “Knesset” (the name of the parliament). In order to form a majority, several small parties have to ban together and form a coalition. Because of that, there exists a sort of tyranny of the minority, because certain smaller parties are able to enforce their will on the rest of the country as their votes are needed to pass coalition goals.

If one of these small parties doesn’t get what it wants, it can threaten the power of the entire coalition. For example, on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, most of the bus lines shut down by law, because the religious factions of the government wanted it to be so. Even if they are not the majority, they get their way. That’s how it works.

Otherwise, Israel is very western. There are all kinds of western icons here: McDonald’s, Burger King, Office Depot, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, Ace Hardware, Microsoft, and many more. In fact, now, when you are driving around, you can always see the Golden Arches beckoning from almost anywhere around Tel Aviv. Everyone even has a cell phone…it’s just like New York!

Monday, I am off to Bulgaria for a week or so, and then to Istanbul, Turkey! Once I get there, I don’t know if I will be able to check my email so often (I know, you are saying “whew!”), but I promise to keep this going as often as I can, because many of you have written to me saying you are enjoying these travel blogs.

Please send me email addresses of anyone who wants to be on my list!

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria

Bulgaria. Let’s all say that together…Bul-gar-i-a. I absolutely cannot believe that I am in Bulgaria, but I really am! It’s real folks!

Some questions you may be asking yourself are, “Bulgaria? Where the hell is that? And why the hell would anyone go to Bulgaria?”

First let me say this – Right now, where I am sitting, I am less than a few hundred miles east of Bosnia Herzegovina. Yep, I can smell the ethnic cleansing.

Bulgaria is a tiny country, roughly the size of Pennsylvania in the Balkans, with a population of 8.2 million. If you go to maps.com and check out a map of Europe, look for Greece and Turkey. Bulgaria is right above both countries, bordering the former Yugoslavia on the west, and the Black Sea on the east.

Now as for why I am here:  My dad was born here, in the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia (accent on the first syllable), and he has not been back here for 50 years. He has this crazy idea about retiring here, because it’s so damn cheap. This country has barely seen the light of capitalism and a free market economy, since it broke free from communist Russia about 10 years ago when that whole game fell apart. So, he wanted to come and check it out. When he invited me to come too, I thought, “Hell no”, but then I realized it would be a free ticket to Europe, and I’d get to check out all the places that he has been harping about for 20 years. Well, I am not sorry I came yet …

Here’s a little story ’bout how I got to Bulgaria, and my first impressions: 

My dad and I left the Kibbutz in Israel around 3:00am to head for the airport and catch a 5:30am flight. We passed the rigorous Israeli security inspection (they are completely obsessed with security, and rightfully so), and I managed to get by the customs people without getting hassled about why I am not an Israeli citizen and in the army. Whole other story.

We made our way to the Balkan Airlines check-in. Ever heard of Balkan Airlines? Me neither. When I found out this would be the airline, I immediately envisioned myself sitting next to a goat or a sheep, with chickens running around the isles of the plane. I dunno…  Maybe they were the official Bulgarian airline/poultry and livestock transportation method.  But the flight was civilized enough. The food was nasty though. What can you expect?

When we arrived at the airport in Sofia, I immediately got the impression that this country does not have its shit together. It was pretty dirty … locals sitting around smoking cigarettes, and the air was cloudy with smoke. We made our way through the crowds of people holding signs in what looked like Russian (Bulgarian is a Slavic language like Russian, and there are many similar words), and arranged for a taxi into the city.

Along the way, the first thing I saw looming in the distance was the Golden Arches of Mickey D’s. Yep, seeds of western ways are being planted already. I had to laugh. There are Coca Cola signs all over the place, indications of a society envious of the west, but not quite grasping it.

As we passed through the city, I noticed many fine European structures, Coptic looking Churches, and potentially magnificent houses. As we got closer, it became immediately evident that all these buildings, once the pride and glory of this city, had been left to the wind by 50 years of communism.

The city, by and large, looks like a run down remnant of a time long past. The people in the street don’t seem to have much to be happy about and there are many beggars. It appears that the standard of living here is quite low. Even our hotel room, which costs $85 a night (expensive by this country’s standards) is pretty grungy. But there is still an element of the old city there, as parts of it have been better kept than others. I have yet to really explore this place, so I will fill in the details later.

We already drove by the house where my dad was born, and it was very nice to be with him as he returned to it. Of course, when he would describe it to me when he was as a child, he made it out to be this glorious mansion with all kinds of decorative adornments. Now it’s just as run down as the rest of city. I imagine it was a disappointment for him, but just being here has already triggered many memories for him. I am happy for him.

Anyway, it seems I have just written a book. I am sorry if this is too long for many of you to read through completely. I do hope you enjoy reading though.

Bulgaria. I have to pinch myself. I am really in Eastern Europe. What shall become of me?  Stay tuned….

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria – Part Deux

Since we last spoke, I headed back to the hotel taking the long way around, so I could get a better feel of the city by foot. I was shocked and dismayed to see the following things (in no particular order):  Kentucky Fried Chicken, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and many more McDonald’s. It seems McDonald’s goal is to litter every part of the world with its fascist arches, gaining more control over the globe than Rome ever did in its most powerful and glorious times!  But I have to say, it’s good to know the cheeseburgers are there.

I decided to make my first attempt at Bulgaria cuisine. I read in my Lets Go Europe book that street venders were a good source of cheap food and stomach cramps. I gave it a go at the first one I saw. The dish was some sort of bratwurst looking thing (you know, those long thick sausages you can get at the standard NY street fair). Of course, I did not have a clue how to order, so I simply pointed at the thing and held up my index finger indicating I wanted one.

The perceptive Bulgarian went to work frying up my lunch, and in a matter of minutes I was handed a charred sausage in a toasted bun, drowned in sauerkraut and mustard. As I was wolfing, I began to ponder exactly what it was that I was eating and ruled it to be mystery meat (in fact, it is still a mystery, but I am inclined to say it came from a pig), but it tasted decent. Hours later, I am still tasting the nasty stuff that stubbornly will not digest.  Note to self: Stay away from strange mystery meats!

When I got back to the hotel, my father and I decided to hire a cab to take us around Sofia. We flagged down a guy named Vladimir who was more than willing to take our American money and show us around. He actually proved to be quite informative, and he even spoke some French so I could converse with him (yes, I speak French…surprised?).

We first went back to the house of my dad’s birth to give it a more thorough checking out.  I really wanted to go inside, but my dad didn’t. He said it would ruin his memory of days of yore. I said, “But isn’t coming here and seeing it in that condition doing just that?” Logical, right? Well, he wouldn’t agree to go in, but I wanted to anyway.

I had the cab driver ring the bell at the door of the house for me and propose to whoever answered that I am the son of the former owner of this house, and I would like to come inside to see it. No dice. Each one had a sob story, or suspiciously backed away from the window they were peering out of to see who was ringing their bell. One lady reluctantly agreed to let me in. We waited 10 minutes, and she never came back. I never got to go in. The contents of the house remain a mystery. Perhaps it is better that they do. People are not overly friendly here.

As we continued to drive around, my dad would get all excited every time he saw something he recognized, such as his former school, a bread bakery that was still in operation, and a street he once played ball on. He would start screaming at me in Bulgarian, as if I understood. I just kept nodding and encouraging him.

We ended up at a very old synagogue, the biggest Sephardim Jewish synagogue in Eastern Europe (Sephardim Jews are those who originate in Spain and left during the inquisition in 1492). It turns out my grandparents were married there, and my father had many memories of the place.

An old Jewish Bulgarian was kind enough to show us around, and my father spent about an hour talking to him. I obviously didn’t understand what they were talking about, but that’s okay. The big story behind this building is that the local Jewish population holds it to be the site of a miracle, because during World War II, a bomb fell right into the courtyard of the synagogue, but it did not explode, averting the destruction of the place. Thank God, right? 🙂

After we left Vladimir, we decided to have a nice dinner of authentic regional cuisine. We picked the most civilized looking restaurant and ordered a series of local treats. I enjoyed a cold soup concoction of yogurt, dill, garlic, and cucumbers called “Tarator”. We also had a very strong alcoholic drink (the name escapes me), which gave me a nice buzz in a matter of a few sips. There were some musicians playing local sounding tunes, which my father enjoyed. He tipped them 20 Leva (roughly $10) to play a little ditty, and that made their night. They dedicated the rest of the evening to their rich American guests (us). These people are very poor, and they have very little direction, so there is much desperation and poverty.  For us to spend a little extra, which is nothing to us, makes all the difference to these people whose lives were ravaged by communism.

After dinner, we concerned ourselves with nightlife. We were advised to stay off the streets and not wonder around, because apparently it is pretty dangerous at night. Even the police are frightened, so I am told, so we hit the Casino in our hotel. Let me see if I can draw a comparison for you that will give you an idea of what this was like. If anyone has seen the most recent James Bond flick, there is a Casino scene in the movie, which would give you a good idea of it. It seemed like a pretty shady mafia-run operation with underdressed waitresses coaxing you with their batting eyes to empty your pockets at the black jack table. Lots of screaming and yelling in Bulgarian. We had to pass through this bulletproof glass revolving door. My dad got happy and blew $100. Waste ‘O Cash. Well, I guess the casino business is the most profitable industry here.

That night, I was alone in my hotel room (we decided to get separate rooms after all, and thank God, because my father snores like a dying bear). It was really freaky, the realization that I was in some grungy hotel in the middle of a run down, formerly communist city in a forgotten country, once behind the iron curtain and now hopelessly set back by its 50 years of darkness, barely able to stay alive in the modern world. It was hard to sleep with the fear that I could wake up to some intruder who heard some Americans were in Bulgaria and decided to break in and do some looting. Of course, I was fine.

Next Day:
We set out to find the best “Banitza” in town. Banitza, or Boraekas, are a regional pastry made with filo dough (ever have spinach pie in a Greek restaurant?) and cheese. We got in a cab that took us to this little back alley place where we found what we were looking for.  Good stuff! I still can’t get over how cheap things are in this country. A bottle of cola goes for the equivalent of 40 cents in American money. Last night’s dinner with all it’s courses, came to less than $10. Unreal.

After breakfast, we hopped on one of the many public trams that run to and from the outskirts of the Sofia to the city center. It was a good way to get a real sense of what life is like here. Folks, let me tell you, we Americans are very lucky to have what we have. This city is so run down and neglected, yet evidently once quite glorious. It’s obvious that in its time, the architecture was quite beautiful, but now it’s mostly crumbling away. The streets are very dirty, and the roads are full of potholes. There are so many people just standing around with nothing to do and nowhere to go, and many beggars who plead with even more emotion than the ones on our very own NY subway.

One thing I realized is that the way we nod our heads to say, “Yes” and shake our heads to say, “No” is actually reversed here. Shaking is yes, and nodding is no. Quite confusing, and I kept forgetting. When I hailed a cab and motioned to the driver as if to say, “Are you free?” he shook his head (which to me, means no, but to him means yes) and then motioned for me to get in. I find it very odd, this reversal.

OK. Long enough, right?  Sorry…well, not really. Tonight we may go to a Bulgarian opera.  Tomorrow, we set out for Plovdiv, the next biggest city here, and then on to the coast of the Black Sea. From there, I leave to Istanbul, Turkey! Stay tuned…same Bat email…

Jared

P.S.:  I would love to hear from all of you!

Jared in Bulgaria – Part Trois

Day Three:  My water supplies have run out, and I am lost in a Bulgarian desert with no food. Wait…is that some Feta cheese I see in the distance? Ohhhhh…..I am saved!

Reality:

Last night Vladimir (our friendly cabbie) returned to the scene for a little tour of the surrounding mountains. Sofia is quite dramatically set at the foot of a huge mountain called Vitusha. It’s one of those gigantic pointed-peak, snow-capped types that and is quite breathtaking. I can see it from the balcony of my room.

Vladdie trucked us up to the foot of Vitusha to this quaint little restaurant by a lake. We were served up the real Bulgaria goods this time. They have the best Feta cheese here, and for those of you who know me well, that should tell you I am a happy camper when it comes to food. This cheese is a staple in their diet, so it came on the salad, and in a fried form mixed in with corn meal (I never had anything like this before).

The main dish was chicken, with onions and peppers in a tomato base…it was okay, but it didn’t blow my mind. I couldn’t finish all the food that came, so I wanted to make sure it was not thrown away. In a country where many people cannot afford to eat, that would be a grave shame. I had my dad ask the waiter what he would do with the leftovers, and I was told not to worry that it would be eaten. When we were walking out of the restaurant, I peered around the corner and saw them dumping the food into dog dishes. Well, at least Fidofsky didn’t go hungry last night.

We hired Vladimir to drive us across country to the Black Sea coastal town of Varna, by way of Plovdiv, the second largest Bulgarian city, and supposedly its cultural capital. The next morning Vladdie showed up at 10:00am, and my bags were packed and ready to go.  As I was carrying them around the car to the trunk, he met me there to assist in lifting the bags (he’s a little overzealous). Immediately, I was met with the heaviest punch of body odor that I have yet to smell from European or Israeli people alike. Whoa…I almost fell backward as the pungent odor filled my nostrils and went straight to my brain’s “nasty sensors”.

I was not looking forward to riding two hours in a car with this beast-like smell.  As we got underway, I rolled the window all the way down and practically stuck my head out like a dog would, with my face to the wind. My dad screamed at me to close the window, because it was cold. Hell no. Next time hire a cabbie who bathes from time to time.

The Bulgarian countryside is full of rolling hills and mountain backdrops. It’s clear that the land is for the most part neglected, because it has an overall tinge of brown to it. You know, the color of dead plant life. There is also a strange haze that seems to hang over the whole country, as if to reflect the lack of clarity and direction that its people seem to have.  Along the way, I listened to music provided by my good friend Kevin Kline (it was the Zeppelin mix CD, Kev…). With the wind blowing in my face, I was able to survive the ride with Funky Vladdie.

Right now, I am sitting in an Internet center in Plovdiv.  Many of you may wonder where I am accessing the Internet from so often from. Well, there is a strange contrast of extremes here in Bulgaria. While you can find things like Internet access, and the standard trappings of western goods (I speak mainly of food), the situation is indeed as bleak as I have been painting it. Plovdiv, however, seems to be a lot nicer and better kept than Sofia.

First of all, our hotel is not a dump. It can actually be said that it’s “nice”. I wouldn’t go further than that though. There is definitely a more youthful and alive energy to Plovdiv.  Young faces roam the streets, in modern dress and style. The town center is not grungy, and there are many shops and street vendors selling religious icons and various handcrafted items. And, of course there’s the local McDonald’s. 🙂

So, that’s that. I am about to go and explore Plovdiv for a bit….maybe have a snack or something, and then meet up with dad and Vlad later for some dinner. I hope Vlad is smelling better by that point.

Stay tuned…

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria – Part Quarte

Great news everyone! Vladimir bathed! OH, what a relief! I was really beginning to worry that I’d have to spend the next few days in the midst of thick Bulgarian funk…

Okay, on to other news.

After my last installment, I ventured out into the city center of Plovdiv. Ya know what? This ain’t such a bad city. It has a whole strip in the center called, “Knyaz Alexandar” where there are dozens of shops, people hanging out, and people walking to and fro, arm in arm with smiles on their faces. I saw a number of street musicians, artists, and vendors selling different books, crafts, and religious icons. That’s a big deal in this town – religion. I think they are pretty into it – Bulgarian Orthodoxy. They have many old churches dating back centuries with some of the most impressive designs and murals depicting Jesus and his gang, and all their wacky doings.

As I walked around the city center, I came upon a girl playing guitar right in the main square. I decided to approach and listen for a bit. It was one of my goals before I embarked on this journey, to meet and commune with the local musicians, being that I am one and all. I sat down a few feet away, smiled, and motioned for her to continue playing.  She was decent, but her guitar was all beat up and sounded pretty bad. I felt sad about this, knowing that back at my hotel room, I had a pretty nice one sitting there, and if, heaven forbid, something were to happen to it, I could easily buy another if I had to.

She was clearly poor, as she had a box strategically placed for people to drop spare change into. I know she depended on this, so I emptied my pockets of loose change and she looked at me graciously. She said something in her tongue, but I replied, “No speaka Bulgarian. English!”, while making convoluted hand gestures.

“Ahhh, English?” and I nodded, which to her means “no”, but then I remembered and shook my head to indicate “yes.” So, she consequently broke into a rendition of Alanis’ “Ironic.” Imagine hearing this song sung by someone who clearly does not understand the words, and pronounces them with the heaviest of Slavic accents. Go ahead…imagine.

I was nice and I sang along. A few moments later, we were approached by some Mormon missionaries. These guys are relentless….everywhere, converting the world. Even in Bulgaria! I knew right away what they were, so I started talking to them. I guess they figured they shouldn’t bother with me, since I was not one of the local heathens, but I spoke to them for a bit anyway. It was nice to talk to some Americans, after nearly two weeks of solid foreigners….but of course, I am the foreigner now.

A group of rowdy, drunk Bulgarian youth approached to check out the girl who was playing guitar. Clearly, they had their fill of Vodka that afternoon. I was quietly writing in my journal, listening to the girl, soaking up the atmosphere, when one of them came over to me and asked me a question. Again, I said, “No speaka Bulgarian. English”. Bad move.  Seconds later there was a swarm of drunken kids around me saying “American?  American?”

They got pretty close, and decided they were interested in my sunglasses, so I let them take them off my face and check them out. I suddenly became very friendly and pointed at myself saying, “Me, Jared”.  Luckily, they were receptive, as one stepped forth and said “Me, Nicolai”.  Then, they all decided to spout whatever English words they could think of:  “Chicago”, “Cowboys”, “Bill Clinton” (pronounced “Beel Cleenton”), “Derek Jeter”! I kept smiling and nodding approvingly, thinking to myself, “I gotta get the hell out of here”.  Luckily, some of the Politza (police) came over and sent the kids packing. They drunkenly waved and screamed, “bye-bye Americana” and walked away. That was my que to hightail back to the safety of the hotel. I spent the evening in my room, playing guitar on the balcony and surfing through the limited variety of TV channels. Not much on, but Bulgarian porn. Click.

Next day:

I awoke to find out my dad arranged to have an English speaking tour guide named Svetlana show me around Plovdiv. Vladimir took us to the city center and from there, we hoofed it up to the ancient part of the city where there’s some Roman ruins of an amphitheater and maze of ancient looking cobblestone streets with very old-school looking European houses lining them.  We went to the museum of Bulgarian Renaissance.  Eh, I’ll skip that, cuz it was pretty boring, considering all the text was in Bulgarian, and I no speaka Bulgarian. The old city is very nice. It is set on a hill, so much of the walking was on either a steep incline or decline. The hill has been settled for over 4000 years, and Svetlana explained that the settlers chose the site because it was easy to defend.  I guess rocks roll down a hill a lot easier than up a hill.

Later in the afternoon, we drove up into the mountains to the Bochkovo Monastery, which was quite beautiful. The mountains surrounding Plovdiv are more alive than the ones in between Sofia and Plovdiv. There were several quaint towns with red-shingle-roof houses, and step farms carved into the mountainsides.

When we arrived at the monastery, we were greeted by a chorus of bleating sheep and a kind old gentleman with a long white beard in a black robe (picture the typical monk) who was kind enough to show us around.  This place was straight out of a fairy tale.  It was so ancient and mystical looking, that I understand the drawing power it has on the locals, who make regular pilgrimages here to pay homage to their faith and kneel before their prized possession, a very old Icon.

An Icon is a religious painting (I think…someone correct me if I am wrong) that supposedly holds miracle-working powers. The one they have here was found in the hills hundreds of years ago by the monastery’s Patriarch, and it is said to have healed the blind and opened the ears of the deaf. Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, that was today. It’s 7:00pm here now, and I will be heading back to the hotel.  Please keep writing to me! I am heading for the coast of the Black Sea tomorrow!

Thanks for reading,

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria – Part Cinque

Hi all! I will keep this short, because Vladimir is waiting to take me back to the hotel.  It’s kind of nice to have a chauffer, even if he reeks.

We left Plovdiv this morning and set out on the 6-hour drive to the coast of the Black Sea, IN a town called Varna, a major city in this country. It’s supposedly a resort town where all kinds of low budget Europeans come for vacation. Looks to me more like a ghost town full of run down hotels, and half built complexes, seemingly abandoned in mid-construction.  Oh well, what can I expect? I’m in Bulgaria, for God’s sake.

The drive here was quite annoying, because my father sat in the front with Vladimir and they were speaking Bulgarian the whole time. Here’s an exercise to perform:  Get a tape of a foreign language of which you do not understand a word, place in Walkman, and listen for six hours without stopping. Then, you will understand what I went through today. God,  I thought they would never shut up! There is a word in Bulgarian, “tooka”, which I think means “there is”. Like, if you were to say, “There is an Internet center here”, you would say “Tooka Internet blah blah blah”.  So it pops up all the time in conversation. All I heard was “Tooka tooka tooka tooka” all day, and I was about to go insane when we finally arrived.  No offense to any Bulgarians out there…it’s not you, it’s me.

So, I have officially laid eyes on the Black Sea. Looks like your average body of water to me. We checked into the hotel, which is right on the beach, but wayyyy the heck out of town. So, I am basically going to be stranded here for the next few days, because we are sending Vladimir back to Sofia. So, you may not hear from me for a few days.

My dad wants to remain here for two weeks of rest and relaxation. I want to hop on the next bus to Turkey and begin my own personal journey……but that will probably not be until Tuesday. Oy. Well, thank the maker I have my guitar, and I bought a really good book called Exodus by Leon Uris. All about the creation of Israel. Good stuff; very interesting. It has my official stamp of approval.

Sorry, I don’t have much exciting things to report, cuz I spent most of the day in the car, and I got Funky Vladdie standing over me looking all impatient and stuff. So, I’ll leave you now.

Onto Turkey! Hopefully soon…

Jared

Jared in Bulgaria – The End

Yo, my people, what it be?

I am sitting in an Internet center in Varna, Bulgaria on the coast of the Black Sea (“Cherno Moreh” in Bulgarian). This will be my final transmission from this country, because this afternoon I am hopping on a 12-hour bus ride to Istanbul, Turkey. I am so very excited for several reasons:  1)  To leave Bulgaria;  2) To strike out on my own, finally; and  3) I have always wanted to go to Istanbul.

Ahhh, Bulgaria, will I ever return to grace thine rolling hills of dead vegetation and run down cities full of poor and desperate people? Nope. I don’t think so. If any of you have been considering planning a trip here, don’t. Even though it’s dirt-cheap, and you can live like a king on $500 a month, there ain’t much going on round these parts.

But, for the last few days, I have been living it up in a pretty nice hotel right on the beach of the Black Sea. I went for some walks, played a lot of guitar, and spent hours upon hours reading Exodus. I am absolutely fascinated by this book, and it has stirred within me an even deeper love for Israel. I have learned things about the creation of Israel, which I never knew. I highly recommend this book.

So, today I leave Bulgaria behind, probably forever. I hope my dad doesn’t move here, because I don’t think I will ever see him again. I am trying to persuade him to move to Israel. Cross your fingers, everyone. I will be arriving in Istanbul at 4:00am. What the heck am I going to do in Istanbul at 4:00 am? I have no clue.

I made a reservation at a youth hostel right near the Aya Sofia, a very ancient church – turned mosque – turned museum, dating back to the 500’s of this era. I will do as much reporting about Istanbul as I can, because from what I hear, it is one of the most incredible places in the world.

Everyone, please keep writing to me. It will help me stay grounded when I am completely alone on the other side of the world. Alone in Turkey. What have I gotten myself into? But I am sure it will be amazing, and I will meet tons of people at the hostels. From Istanbul, I will be heading down the west coast of Turkey to the ruins of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city from New Testament times. From there, I will be crossing the Aegean Sea, hitting some Greek Islands, most likely Santorini and Mykonos. If anyone has any suggestions, send them on over.

That’s about it. Thanks for following me around Israel and Bulgaria, hearing all about my dad and stuff. From here on in, it’s just me, so we’ll see what kind of trouble I can stir up in this part of the world. Hope I don’t end up in a Turkish prison!

Jared

Jared in Turkey

I packed my bags last night, pre-bus ride. Zero hour, 4:00am, and I’m gonna be iiiinnnnnnn Istanbul by then.

Hello everyone! I have arrived in Istanbul! OR is it Constantinople? Istanbul or Constantinople? I guess that’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

What a bus ride! We left Varna at 5:00pm yesterday and set out for a 12-hour tour. The weather started getting rough. It was snowing like mad as we passed through the mountains of southern Bulgaria by way of a very windy road…..the tiny bus was tossed. If not for the courage of the fearless crew, we may have tumbled off the mountainside, but we didn’t. I was crammed against the window with an old man next to me the whole way. He smelled like pencil shavings – 12 hours! Never take a 12-hour bus ride. It got dark quickly, so I didn’t get to see much of the picturesque landscape and that bums me out. Oh well. Then the fun started!

We arrived at the Bulgarian border, and the border patrol collected all of our passports. I was very nervous about surrendering my passport, but everyone else was doing it, so I thought it would be ok. They made us get off the bus and unload all of our luggage. They then proceeded to open each and every bag and examine the contents. What fun. I guess they were trying to catch those infamous Bulgarian smugglers in the act.

After we passed the Bulgarian border, we turned the corner and voila the Turkish border. They made us all get off the bus and go inside and stand in line to be checked in. When I got to the window, I was informed that I needed a Visa, and I couldn’t enter the country without it. No big deal…I knew that was coming…so I went around the corner and greased the palm of the border guy with 45 hard earned bucks. He slapped a sticker on my passport that said I was good to go.

Back on the bus. Oops, back off the bus cuz the Turks wanted to look at our bags too. We stood there for another hour as they opened each and every bag to examine the contents. Back on the bus. Six hours to go. Will it ever end? I dozed at some point and awoke to find us passing through some smaller towns on route to Istanbul.

Turkey looks like a pretty modern country! I could see the rows upon rows of very nice looking townhouses that we passed along the way. Everything looks new and modern, from the roads to the gas stations to the shops and larger outlet stores. It could very well be Israel or certain parts of America. The distinctive thing, though, is the towering Minarets (where the call to prayer is given) that protrude from the top of very beautiful mosque in each town. Don’t forget, this is a Muslim country.

We arrived at the modern looking bus station in Istanbul at about 4:00am. I was so wiped out, and I didn’t know what to do at that point. A lot of people were waiting in a room in the bus company’s office for their next bus, so many people offered to wait with me. I thought about it and said NO. I decided to make it for the hostel via taxi. Ohhhh taxis in Istanbul. Crazier than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

My driver did not speak a word of English, so it was very difficult to tell him where I needed to go. All I had was an address and a vague idea of where my hostel was…in the Sultan Ahmet section of town, right near the Aya Sofia (see previous letter). The guy had no idea where it was, so we spent half an hour weaving around the ancient streets of Istanbul.

No one was out at the time, so it seemed like a ghost town. I kept thinking, oh my God, it’s 4:30am, and I am lost in the back streets of Istanbul. Freaky. But we passed a lot of very large and beautiful structures, then we came to Aya Sofia. Extremely beautiful from the outside. After asking directions a few times, the driver found my hostel. He then tried to cheat me by quoting a higher price than what I was told at the bus station. I didn’t fall for it.

Enter hostel. Pretty decent. I got a single room…a little grungy with a sink…no bathroom…down the hall. The window was open, and it was absolutely freezing. I shut it and kicked on the heater, bundled up, and went to sleep.

By the way, I am a millionaire in Turkey. Of course that doesn’t mean much. The dollar is equal to 570,000 Turkish lira. So I got about 20 million. I’m loaded.

There ya go. The story of how I got to Turkey. You’ll hear much more soon…..

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Deux

WARNING:  PRETTY DANG LONG AND POTENTIALLY EDUCATIONAL. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. GET THE REAL STORY ON TURKSIH BATH HOUSES.

I want to write about my first two days in Istanbul. As you know, I arrived at 4:00 in the morning on Tuesday with the crazy cab ride through the back streets, all lost and stuff. OK…

I went to bed that night and awoke around 11:00am that morning. That was the first glimpse of Turkey I had in the daylight, and I soon found out just how beautiful Istanbul really is. From the window of my hostel room, I have a full view of the Aya Sophia, which is completely magnificent. I’ll get to that soon. I decided to dress and get started on my exploration.

The part of Istanbul I am in is called Sultan Ahmet. It’s basically tourist central. That’s where you got all the big attractions and most impressive structures. Sultan Ahmet is located in the Golden Horn section on the European side of Istanbul. If you were not aware, Istanbul straddles two continents – Europe and Asia. Separating the two sides is the Bosphorous River that is the only outlet from the Black Sea into the Sea of Mamara, which in turn is the only outlet into the Mediterranean, through the Dardinelle straights.

That makes Istanbul a very valuable city, since all traffic coming in and out of the Black Sea must pass through its center. That, of course, was the reason Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople on this site back in the 300s AD, later to become Istanbul when the Muslims took over in the 1400s. And that fact has been the reason for countless invasions, by the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Russians, Ottomans, and many others.  Each culture has left its mark on this city. So there’s a bit of history for you.

I started my first day with the aim of just roaming around to get my bearings. As I walked out of the hostel, not more than one minute later, I was approached by an over-friendly Turk who tried very hard to strike up a conversation with me – “What’s your name? Where are you from? Why are you in Turkey?”

I was immediately suspicious and hesitant to speak to him. I kept walking, but he followed alongside me. I cautiously engaged him in light conversation, only to find a few moments later that he was really just interested in selling me a Turkish carpet. That seems to be the huge business here, and I think a lot of tourists are getting conned into buying overpriced rugs, even if they are nice looking. I informed him I was not interested, and I am not going to buy a carpet. He said, “That’s ok my friend, if you just come to my shop, I can tell you all about Turkish carpets. If you don’t want to buy, it’s ok. We will have a cup of tea and maybe we’ll become friends”. I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I just arrived, and I want to walk around. See ya.” I walked away.

As I approached the main section of Sultan Ahmet, I had to fight off the little kids trying to sell postcards and shoeshines. Clearly there is a thriving tourist industry here. I made my way through the crowds of tourist trappers, and behold before me was the magnificent Blue Mosque. I highly recommend looking it up to see some pictures of it. It is unbelievably beautiful. It has six towering Minarets with huge domes made from stone and silver. Five times a day, the call to prayer roars forth from these towers, which you can hear it across the city.

The structure is so immense that its presence completely overshadows everything else in the landscape. Muslims sure do know how to build their houses of worship. I took my shoes off, according to Muslim law, and went inside.The interior is equally as impressive.  The floor is lined with hand-woven carpets, and the room is completely open and is the size of the structure itself. Bluish tiles cover the ceiling and walls, adorned with Arabic writing of passages from the Koran. After gazing upward in marvel for nearly half an hour, I put my shoes back on and went outside.

I sat down on the benches in the courtyard of the Mosque and was again approached to buy a carpet. I made it clear that I was not interested, but the guy seemed genuine, so I ended up speaking to him for about an hour. His name was Ali. We talked about life in Turkey. I asked him what it was like to be here during the big earthquake. “Very scary”, he said. It turns out that nearly 50,000 people died, far more than the press reported. I can’t imagine what it must have been like. Turkey seems very modern, although that was not the impression I had of this place before I came.

After I left Ali, I decided to go to the Aya Sophia. Again, this structure is immense; even bigger than the Blue Mosque and far older. It was first built back in the 300s, but had to be rebuilt a few times due to earthquakes. Look it up to see some pictures. The building has gone through many changes over the years, because of i’s conversion from a church to a mosque, but the interior is quite amazing. Inside, there is a dark feel and coldness in the air. The floor is made of ancient stone with large pillars supporting very high domes. It was in this building that each Byzantine Emperor was crowned. The ceiling is full of Christian mosaics, as well as Islamic art that was painted over many of the original mosaics. They have been working to restore much of the art that was painted over throughout the years. Many battles took place in and around the Aya Sophia. Enough of that.

Next, I decided to check out the Grand Bazaar. This is an immense network of narrow indoor streets with arched ceilings lined with store after store of clothing, bags, Turkish rugs, giant water pipes, hand drums, chess sets, swords, and different types of food and teas. Most of the stores sell exactly the same thing as all the others, which is a shame, because you can spend hours roaming the corridors, not really seeing anything unique. The shopkeepers are very zealous and constantly beckoning you to enter. “Good deal!  Good deal, my friend! Come inside, please, come!”  I actually did get lost and ended up on the other side, with no clue how to get back to the hostel. I asked for some directions with a lot of hand gestures and finger pointing, I made my way back.

That night I hung out at the hostel and ate dinner in the cafeteria. That’s when I met a few people. There are a wide variety of nationalities represented here – Australians, Americans, Dutch, Spanish, and French, to name a few. We all hung out and got drunk in the pub. I played some guitar with a Turkish fellow who also played. The beer went to my head, and I had to hit the hay around 11:00………

Next Day:

I awoke to a determination:  I am in Turkey. I must have a Turkish bath.

Who has not heard about a Turkish bath? Everyone has, but like most people, I had no idea what it consisted of. I got a recommendation from the hostel on where to go for a good one. They pointed me towards a reasonably priced Haman, bathhouse, and I set out.

The bathhouse I went to was over 300 years old. The building looked very ancient, and it was domed like much of the architecture here. I descended into the bathhouse and was greeted by a nice man named Habib who spoke very little English. I was taken up to a small room where I was told to get into my birthday suit and wrap a towel around my waist. He then led me downstairs through a wooden door into the main bath chamber. The air was very hot, like a sauna, and extremely humid. I could immediately feel water droplets condensing on my skin. The main bath chamber is a circular room, all made of grayish-blue marble – the walls, the floor, the ceiling, everything.

The walls were again adorned with Arabic writing and the perimeter of the room was lined with marble water basins with faucets for hot and cold. In the center of the room, there was a giant marble platform, hot to the touch. The floor had little trenches for water drainage. There were also some smaller rooms off the main room with the same sorts of water basins and hot marble. It was dark, but there were small circular windows in the ceiling to let some light in. A very Gothic mood. Picture Indiana Jones.

There were two other people there, getting the treatment, so I had a pretty good idea what I was in for.  I sat on the marble platform for a while, just soaking it up, sweating profusely. After a while I began to wonder where the guy went. Finally he came back, and we got started. The first portion of the bath consists of a massage. Oh man, that hurt. These guys do not hold back. They literally kneed your flesh as if it were dough and pound your back with their fists, working every inch of your body. But, it felt pretty good when it was over.

Then, he broke out a sandpaper like scrub brush and began to sand every inch of my flesh, except a few important parts. I felt like a piece of wood getting smoothed down. The purpose, apparently, is to remove all your dead skin. Sorry if I am too graphic, but most of you will never have a Turkish bath, so read on. After the scrubbing, I laid on the marble platform, then he dumped large amounts of soapsuds on me, entirely covering me. I must have looked like one big sud to the onlooker.

Then, he began lathering me quite forcefully, really digging in, if you know what I mean.  Every inch. Unfortunately, the soap got in my eyes, so they burned for a while and were red for the rest of the morning. When he was done with the suds, he took me over to one of the basins on the side and sat me down. Bucket after bucket of warm water was dumped on me to rinse off the suds. Then it was over. I was all wet and in a daze.

I felt cleaner than ever and ready for a nice nap. He left me lying on the marble to take my time. When I felt ready, I went out the wooden door and was toweled off and sent back up to my little room to get dressed. I found my way outside and stumbled back to the hostel where I subsequently collapsed on my bed, giggling to myself that I actually had a Turkish bath. The real thing. So, that’s about all I have to say about Turkish baths.

After resting up, I made my way outside again, wanting to see a few more of the standard sights. First, I went to the Underground Cistern. This is an underground, obviously, network or water channels used to bring water to the main palace.It was built by the Romans, way back when. Descending into the main chamber, I was greeted by soft classical music and cold, damp air. The cistern is actually a vast open room about the size of a football field, full of Roman columns and arched ceilings. About two feet of water covers the floor, and there are platforms on which you walk throughout the cistern, gazing at the columns and feeling the mood.

It was pretty cool, but got old quickly. The main attraction are two columns that have giant Medusa heads as their base. I actually got into a bit of an argument with a tour guide who was talking to her group near the Medusa columns. I was standing near her group as she was talking, just looking at the columns and minding my business. Then all the sudden she asks me to move away from them! As if I were some sort of security threat, or I was invading her group. I said, “Ma’am, I paid my 3 million Lira, and I am looking at these columns”, and she said, “Well, we were here before you, and you have to wait until we are finished. That’s how it works!” I said, “You don’t own these columns. You don’t even work here. You are just a tour guide. Who are you to tell me what to do?”  But, in order to avoid a scene, I complied. Exit cistern.

This is getting pretty long already, so I will cut some details.

Next, I went to see the Topkapi Palace, which was the seat of the Ottoman Empire. I got see where all the sordid stuff went down. Those Sultans had lots of concubines, and they threw some massive “parties.” The palace is a very holy place to Muslims, because it contains many unique Islamic treasures, such as the tooth and hair of the Prophet Mohamed, as well as a letter he wrote, and some other stuff.

After the palace, I decided to walk until I could walk no more. I ended up going all the way down to the riverfront, walking along its edge, heading towards a bridge that crosses the river to Asia. Again, I had to fight off the little kids trying to sell me a shoeshine. A whole pack of them followed me for 15 minutes. “Shoeshine? Shoeshine? Good price Mister.  Where you from?” I clicked my tongue at them, which is the Turkish sign for NO, but they kept insisting. Then, one of them ran in front of me and in a flash, wiped some shoe polish on my sneaks. That made me angry. I started yelling, and they ran away. Too bad … I would have liked to catch one…..

It was a long walk to the bridge across the river, but I finally arrived and made the dramatic crossing to Asia. From the bridge, there are some breathtaking views of the city. The bridge is lined with fishermen who will catch you one and fry it up on the spot for a few million Lira. After my dramatic crossing, I went back to the Grand Bazaar and roamed around there for a while. I ended up jamming with a Turk at one of the shops that sold the hand drums. Fun stuff.

Tonight, I am leaving on a package tour for 5 days around Turkey….I’ll give ya all the details as it happens.

OK, I am fried and I am sure the few of you who actually read this whole thing are fried too.  I’ll let ya go. One thing:  A lot of people have said to me, “Why do you spend so much time writing? Get out and explore!” Well, first of all, I only spend an hour a day, or so, writing, so it’s not that much. This writing is very important to me, because when my trip is over, I will have a very thorough journal of my travels. Second of all, when you are alone in a strange place, it’s comforting to communicate with your friends and family. But, don’t worry, I am spending plenty of time exploring. Internet cafes are everywhere, including in my hostel, so access is very easy.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy these things as much as I do. Sorry if there are any more funny looking ý thýngýes….çþöðü…

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Trois

Hey all! Wassup? I’ve been havin’ a blast these last few days….I decided to get out of Istanbul and see some of this fabulous country and lemme tell ya, there is a heck of a lot to see here. I signed up for one of those low budget package tour deals, which will send me to some pretty key spots in Turkey, then put me on a ferry to Greece at the end of it all.

I took another 12-hour bus ride from Istanbul to a place called Cappadokia, which is in the region of Anatolia in the center of the country. Ugh, the ride was way long, but somehow I managed to sleep, miraculously. I arrived in a town called Goreme at around 8:00 in the morning and was picked up by the tour company at the bus station. They dropped me off at my hostel, which turns out to be in a cave. Yep, a cave!

The deal with Cappadokia is that it’s an area formed out of volcanic ash and eroded over thousands of years to create these cone shaped, lava rock pillars all over the area. Since volcanic rock is soft, early settlers of this region, and then later the Byzantine Christians, carved all kinds of churches and cities into the rock itself so the area is full of caves and caverns all hewn by the hands of the ancients. It makes for some interesting sites, and people actually still live in the some of the caves….and they have also built houses out of them.

So, my hostel is in a cave. I felt like Fred Flintstone. I arrived and the hostel attendant showed me to my room, which I had to descend into. It was freezing cold, like your standard cave would feel. There was a musty smell coming from somewhere….at least there were Turkish rugs thrown over the floor. My bed was a pile of straw. Just kidding…it was an actual bed. I met a really cool married couple from Canada whom I hung out with for the next two days.

Our tour began at 9:30am. We spent the day exploring the region, and its many breathtaking panoramic views. We hiked around through valleys, going into some of the caves and seeing many of the well-preserved churches with amazing artwork still intact. We also visited a pottery making operation and got to see how all that works. In addition, we got to see how Turkish carpets are made. I was quite impressed with the process. It actually takes several months to a year of labor to produce just one carpet, depending on how elaborate the design is. I got to see the little old ladies in action. Of course, then they tried to get us to buy a carpet, but what the hell am I gonna do with one?

The weather is very cold here, to the point where I have to wear my hat and gloves. I have a space heater in my cave, but it didn’t do too much. On top of that, NO HOT WATER.  That doesn’t make your daily necessities very easy. But hey, I am sleepin in a cave for God’s sake. How many people can say they slept in a cave? That’s what I thought.

The next day, the tour guide took us to one of the underground cities. There are entire networks of caverns and rooms for a whole society, completely underground and carved out of the rock. We were told it took 1000 men 10 years to do it. Quite impressive.

The tour guide took us through very cramped tunnels that twisted and turned connecting the various rooms. We had to hunch over much of the time so as not to hit our heads. A couple of times I cracked my head against the rock ceiling and now I have a few bumps as souvenirs….ouch. A few times I started to get a little panicky when I saw how small the tunnel was, but I made it and was happy to have seen such an amazing creation. The afternoon was spent hiking through the valley of Ilhara and having lunch in a very ancient Turkish village by a stream. It felt like I was back in time. Some of these places haven’t changed for 1000 years.

The tour ended with a stop at a spot where a scene from the first Star Wars movie was filmed. When the guide said we would see where the movie was filmed, I was all excited, since I was obsessed with Star Wars for a long time…..I was all giddy thinking I’m gonna see where Obi Wan Kenobi scared the Sand People and saved Luke…… but it wasn’t too exciting….some more lava rock pillars and caves. But I was there man! I was there!

Anyway, that’s all for now. I can’t wait to get away from these Turkish keyboards. They stink. I’m going back to my cave now, where Wilma is cookin’ up some Brontosaurus burgers, and Barney’s coming over to chill….

Sorry I haven’t written to some of you, but I will as soon as the connections get better and I can find a decent keyboard…..but keep writing to me!

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Quatre

Greetings….this email will most likely contain many crazy characters instead of i. Oh well, it’s too frustrating to hit the other key when I am typing…so if you wanna get rid of them, paste the text into MS Word, do a search, and replace….

Here comes da news…

I spent my last day in Cappadokia just roaming around the town of Goreme. It’s a quaint little town, but there are almost no other backpackers there. It’s weird to walk around and see that I am the only foreigner. But it’s definitely a tourist town when the season is right.  I was the only one staying in my cave….kinda strange.

As I walked up and down the streets of Goreme, I couldn’t help but feel bad for all the shopkeepers who were just sitting around and doing nothing. Most of them looked at me pleadingly as I passed by, but what could I do? I think, because of the big earthquake last year, the tourist industry was badly hurt.

During the afternoon, as I was walking around, a man who owns a carpet shop called to me from across the street and invited me to come over to sit with him and have some tea. I knew this was a ploy to sell me a carpet, but I had nothing better to do at the time, so I joined him.

He served up some Chay (that’s what they call Tea here), and we chewed the fat for a while. In the course of conversation, I revealed that I was Jewish, and to my surprise, he claimed to be Jewish too. Immediately, I thought that was another ploy to try and shmooze me to buy a carpet. So, I started asking him questions about Israel and Judaism, and he didn’t know anything. Plus his name was Mohammed. That’s a nice name and all, but it’s definitely not one that Jewish parents would give their child…..so we drank tea and soaked up the sun, watching the dust of the town roll by.

Then he popped the question. “Why don’t you let me show you some of the carpets and Kilims I have available?” Boom. Well, I expected it….so I humored him for a bit as he made his pitch to me.  These guys are pros and make it very hard for you to leave without buying something, but I held my ground and made it back outside with no rugs. I spent the rest of the day finishing Exodus….a phenomenal book that I shall once again recommend.

Around 7:30am, I hopped on the bus to my next destination, a place called Pammukale.  This is a town that has many sights in and around for the tourist to gape at. I’ll get to it…but first, the bus ride. OY VEY. Another 10 hours on a bus….what the heck was I thinking when I signed up for this package?

First of all, a very drunk Turk who reeked of liquor had to sit in the seat across from me mumbling to himself half the time and snoring the rest of the time. To top it off, the entire stretch of road between Cappadokia and Pammukale was barely paved and full of bumps and pot holes the whole way. So, the bus was constantly hitting bumps, and it was quite uncomfortable and impossible to sleep. I felt like I was on a vibrating bed with wheels.  After 10 grueling hours of this, I arrived in Pammukale quite the agitated zombie. The shuttle took me to my hostel, and I immediately crashed.

I awoke at 9:45am to a knock at my door. A thick accented man was yelling at me that my tour bus was waiting outside for me. I bolted up and did a quick run through the necessaries and ran down to a van full of pissed off people, because I made them wait.  Oh well…that’s life.

Pammukale is actually very interesting, because there are sprawling ruins of an ancient Roman city called Hierapolis. As far as the eye can see, an entire mountainside is covered with broken columns, half standing pillars, evidence of once glorious structures, and Roman streets. There was also a well kept amphitheatre over looking the valley below the ancient city and beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance  We spent the morning roaming through these ruins and learning what they once were. Then the tour guide took us for lunch…which I was annoyed at because it turned out to be a rip off. They served salad, bread, rice, and potatoes. Almost entirely carbohydrates and zero protein. I felt like they were just too cheap when they tried to pass a bowl of potatoes off as a main course.

The afternoon was spent investigating the other main attraction here: Mountainsides entirely covered with beautiful white calcium deposits. Part of the attraction of the area to the Romans was the fact that natural hot springs bubble up amply in this region. The water is naturally carbonated with calcium-sulfate, and as the water poured down the mountain, over thousands of years, the calcium dried to form snow-like rivers of deposits.  Check of some pictures on the web. There are also many pools of hot springs, but most of them are not available for swimming, because they’ve been ruined by tourists over the years. Shame.

So now it’s late afternoon, and I am back at the hostel using their very slow and quite expensive Internet connection. Ironically, I have found the connections in Turkey to be painfully slow for a supposedly western country. They were much quicker in Bulgaria, a place that time left behind. Twist O’ Fate.

Later,

Jared

Jared in Turkey – Part Cinque

 WARNING:  THIS EMAIL CONTAINS SPIRITUAL INSIGHTS AND STUFF. BEWARE.

Today, I took my first bus ride during the day in Turkey, so I finally got to see some of the amazing countryside. This is probably the most picturesque country I have ever been to.  The mountains are so incredible and green, full of trees, and spotted with ancient stones.  From the road we traveled on, the hills sprawled forth, getting bigger as they got further away, finally giving way to massive mountains with green slopes and snow capped peaks.

The bus ride weaved its way through an entire range of this scenery, en route from Pamukale to Selcuk where I am now. Selcuk is a town near the coast of Turkey, a base from which to explore the ancient ruins of Ephesus, where I am going tomorrow. It is also the final resting place of St. John, author of a few books in the New Testament.

I was glad to leave Pamukale, as interesting as its calcium slopes and ancient ruins were….it just seemed a little desolate for my taste. The roads were barely paved and there were many abandoned hotels and almost no other travelers. I did encounter another traveling couple and spoke to them for a bit. But after a while, they revealed to me that they were on a mission from “The Lord” and were doing his work to spread the good news of the Gospel to the ends of the Earth.They became very insistent with me about the good news and quite zealously tried to “influence” me. I said that’s great and all, but I’ve already heard the story.

They intend to go to Israel next and spread the good news there…..I told them they wouldn’t be the first people to try that on the Jews. But I wished them well and put some distance between me and them, after refusing their offer to pray for me. No offense to anyone out there, but extremists of any kind rub me the wrong way….

As I am traveling, I am trying to have an “inner journey” as well as an actual journey. This involves being aware of what’s happening to you at all times, and allowing the experience to affect and change you. It’s about growth and evolution, both which were goals I established before I embarked on this trip. I guess I have not been too successful up until now, with fulfilling those goals.

It’s a scary thing to go across the world to a strange place, all alone, and allow yourself to be “blown by the wind”. So, I incorrectly opted to join a package tour that would provide structure so I didn’t have to find the courage to roam on my own. The last four days I have been on this tour, while I have seen many interesting things, have not been overly fulfilling.  I have decided from now on, not to book anything ahead or make any plans. I am just going to go, and see where the journey takes me. After all, the journey is the purpose, and not the destination. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I did have one very fulfilling experience in Istanbul that I neglected to share in my previous installments, which I shall now share. I had time during my last day before my bus left in the evening, so I decided I wanted to play guitar and sing in public. It would be the first time I would do this on this trip. Up until then, I was unsure of how the masses would react to me, and I didn’t want to offend anyone since it is a Muslim country and all. I didn’t know if people would flock around me or stone me to death….it was a gamble. But I took the chance.

I went to the lovely park that sits between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia, both majestic buildings, the site of which can be very inspirational. I took out my guitar and began to softly strum. The fear was there…”what will they think of me? Oh man, I am disturbing these people…..I should go”. But I suppressed the fear and just continued strumming. I saw a few people looking at me, and I just looked down, not wanting to make eye contact.

A few minutes later, a couple of Turkish guys came over and introduced themselves to me….I thought it was a ploy to sell a carpet, but they seemed very interested in the fact that I could play guitar and asked me if I sing to. I said yes, of course and they became even more excited and said, “Play Hotel California!” That’s a standard, and easy enough, so I put aside the fear and began playing it. Halfway through the song, one of the guys said, “You know, you are very good. I think we should move to a more public place, because you can make some money”. I said, “Ok, if you think so…”

So I followed them to a more visible area, right in front of the Blue Mosque where there were a few dozen people sitting around. The guy told me to open my guitar case so people could throw money into it…..I did….and immediately he put a few bills and change in. He charged me to begin playing….so I launched into “Let It Be”…..and immediately people began to turn around and look at me….many of them were smiling and listening intently….some young kids approached me and sat down next to me….more and more people gathered around to look at the strange foreigner singing at the top his lungs in front of one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

When I finished the first song, there was a round of applause! I couldn’t believe it. A bunch of people threw some change into my case, and the guy said, “Keep going!”  So, I did…and the crowd kept getting bigger and more people threw money into my case. The kids were dancing. Women in the traditional Muslim veils were smiling at me. Several of them took pictures of me. This whole scene lasted for about an hour until I had no voice left, and the crowd started to taper off. I was filled with happiness and fulfillment from this experience, and energized to do this much more often. It’s great to know that I can elicit that kind of reaction on the other side of the world. Plus, I made a million Lira….color me rich.

So now I am sitting in Selcuk at my hostel….so far this has been the nicest hostel…people are very friendly here, and I see some other backpackers so maybe I will meet some of them tonight. Tomorrow I shall tour Ephesus, the best preserved ruins of an ancient city in this country…..I am excited to see it. That’s about all…thanks for reading….

Jared

Greece has Crappy Keyboards Too

Ahh, the Greek Islands…

How I have wanted my whole life to come and see them…to hop from rock to rock…feel the history…breathe the air…gaze at the mountains that seem to grow right out of the sea…set sail on the many ferry boats that take you from Island to Island. Well, here I am.

I arrived this morning on the Greek Island of Samos, which is only about a 2-hour boat ride from Turkey. You can still see the Turkish coast in the distance, so it’s not really that far of a trip, but it’s definitely a different country! I could sense that immediately, as our tiny boat sailed into the port of Samos Town, Samos. The town sits on the slope of a hill that leads down to a U-shaped bay that serves as the island’s main harbor. What an amazing site it was to stand on the bow of the boat, with the wind blowing in my face and see the quaint, white houses with red roofs….it’s a very Greek feeling…if you can understand that….and hey, what a coincidence…it’s Greece!

I ran into a guy on the dock that I have been running into all over Turkey…and now here.  His name is Jonathan, and he’s from San Francisco. So we ended up hangin out around town for a few hours and treated ourselves to a Gyro (I am sure you know of this Greek standard), and a stroll through the back streets of this small town. The weather is great and I feel very alive and excited to be in Greece! This afternoon, in about an hour, I will be boarding another ferry that will take me to Mykonos, an island that many have suggested I visit, so I will; thus, begins my voyage across the Aegean Sea.

So what have I been doing for the last few days? I have been in Selcuk, Turkey…as I stated in my last email. This is a town on the Aegean coast and a good base from which to see the ruins of ancient Ephesus, a very significant Greek city of biblical times, where many events of Christian importance took place. Paul the Apostle spent much time preaching there, as well as St. John, who lived out his life and was buried there, as well as Mary, mother of Jesus, whose house you can actually visit – well, uh, so they say.

I arrived in Selcuk and checked into the best hostel I have ever stayed in – The Artemis Guest House. I have never met more friendly hosts who went out of their way to make me feel welcome and included. Plus, I had my own room and my own bathroom, with hot water! What a blessing! I also ran into Jonathan there, mentioned above. We first met in Istanbul, and then again in Pamukale…so I wasn’t surprised to see him in Selcuk, or Samos for that matter. The next day I was supposed to go on a tour of Ephesus, but my travel agent called and told me it was canceled, because I was the only one who signed up! That’s the low season for ya. But lucky for me there was another tour the next day, so I signed up for that instead. That meant I had a day to kill in Selcuk.

The next day I decided I had to have a souvenir of Turkey and since I have been getting into playing chess. I decided to get a nice chess board with wooden pieces….and since my friend Henry wanted one too, I got him one as well and shipped them both to New Jersey (uhh…Henry…you owe me, son). The whole procedure of shipping something was a huge hassle, and it will take about 3 months for it to arrive, because it’s going by boat.  The shipping cost more than the chessboard!

The first night in Selcuk, I met two Canadians and an Australian fellow, and we all hung out till the wee hours of the morning indulging in Turkish beer and getting silly. When I revealed that I had a guitar, it was the start of a big ruckus. The Australian guy knew every song ever written, so we sat around for hours singing Counting Crows songs…his favorite band, and a favorite of mine as well. We developed quite an audience of the entire hostel and their neighbors and I became famous in the small town….so much so that the next day I went out into the main square and did a little concert for the locals….picture lots of old Turkish men sitting around drinking tea and playing backgammon, thinking to themselves “who the hell is this?” It ended when someone offered to sell me drugs, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm, Turkish prison?  Uhh, no thanks.”  End O’ Concert.

Next day I toured the ruins of Ephesus, which are quite well preserved and astounding.  You can walk down the ancient streets paved with marble, go into what’s left standing of the ancient library, which once housed many ancient documents, subsequently destroyed by religious zealots. Shame. Roman columns line the streets and you can see where the houses and baths once stood. There is a giant amphitheatre dating back 2000 years, which is still in use today…recently played by Tina Turner. In the afternoon, the tour brought us to the house of the Virgin Mary where she supposedly lived out her life. It’s at the top of a mountain, reachable only by a very windy road, but Mary had a hell of a view in her old age. You can see all the way to the coast, as well as the entire valley and region around Selcuk for miles…or should I say kilometers….

After Mary’s shack, we went to the tomb of St. John, which is nothing more than a pile of rubble.

After the tour was over, I bought a Turkish carpet. Well, my friend Mohammed was begging me to get one for him, so I obliged. As I am sure I have stated in previous emails, the Turkish Carpet industry is crazy here. There are soooo many shops and soooo many guys trying to sell carpets that it’s hard to know who is for real and who is just trying to rip you off.  I ended up getting it through the hostel which has a store……after about four hours of viewing rug after rug and finally haggling frustratingly….Mohammed is the proud owner of a very nice rug.

Well, my thumb is tired from the space bar on this Greek monstrosity of a keyboard….and I have to catch my ferry to Mykonos…so I will sign off. Some of you people have not written to me in a while. No excuses!!

Jared

Jared in Greece – Part Deux

Greece is amazing! I have been here for 3 days now…I think…I am sort of losing track of time…I don’t even know what day of the week it is! It’s nice to feel that way sometimes, but also very strange….and strange to wake up somewhere and have to think for a minute to remember where you are. I have been hopping around quite a bit in the last month!

So, to fill you in on what’s been happening since my last Bat Episode:

After I left the Internet cafe on Samos, I walked around the perimeter of the U-shaped port, back towards where the ferry boat was due to launch. I met that guy Jonathan at a cafe, because it turned out we would both be on the same ferry….he was going to Athens and I was going to Mykonos. We had to get some food, and I was dying to have my first authentic Greek Gyro.

We picked a little dive where they were turning out the Gyros by the dozens….I saw them and they sure were small…much smaller than the Gyros in the states!  So, we ordered a few….and they came with a strange looking meat. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I tasted it and it was pretty dang good, so I didn’t question it. Of course, it turned out to be pork.  Eeegads! Well, I should have asked. If you don’t know, a Gyro (pronounced “Yeero”) is a pita with meat, onion, tomato, and “tsadziki” (yogurt sauce) all wrapped up conveniently.

After our gyros, we stocked up on some munchies for the long ferry ride and boarded the boat. This was a huge boat, bigger than the Staten Island ferry, and was borderline luxurious. It had lounge chairs, indoor bars and restaurants, gambling, video games and lots of people. We parked ourselves up on deck and enjoyed the view of the island as we pulled out of the harbor. Ahh, my voyage across the Aegean had begun. I thought to myself how weird it was to be there on the boat, when but a month ago, I was so unsure of how I would accomplish this portion of the journey. I have discovered my ability to deal with challenges as they arise.

Jonathan was on route to Athens, but I was telling him of my plans to take in some of the Greek island life, and that convinced him to join me on Mykonos. So, after a 6-hour ride, we pulled into Mykonos harbor at night. I could see the hillside of the mountain dotted with the lights of the little port town. We got off the boat and made our way toward the town, stopped at the first hotel we found and discovered a reasonable rate….$15 per person in a double room…not so bad, but the beds were really uncomfortable, and I was in pain the next morning.

Mykonos is extremely touristy and overpriced. The bay is lined with restaurants and cafes.  Behind the row of restaurants is a small town that extends up the hillside. All of the houses have white plaster exteriors and blue shutter windows, to give a very Greek feel to the place. The streets of the town are very narrow and confusing…apparently designed this way on purpose to strike confusion into pirates who attacked the island periodically. It was like getting lost in a maze. We wandered through these streets aimlessly for a while before encountering a pair of American Navy dudes who were on leave from their ship, which was docked just off the coast of the island. It turns out, actually, that the entire island was over run with drunken Navy guys who were acting like idiots. As we walked around, I felt like I was back in college, and it was fraternity rush week….18 year old newly enlisted kids walking around in a stupor, making asses of themselves and America. I was embarrassed for us all. But hey, they are defending our interests…so……yeah.

Mykonos got old pretty quick. The only people there were the locals and these Navy guys, who I didn’t really care to be around. The island is in a frenzy to get ready for the upcoming tourist onslaught, so the locals were not to be bothered.

The next day, we wandered more around the town and got lost again. We decided one day was enough on Mykonos, so we bought ferry tickets to Athens for the next day. I was going to try to go to Santorini as well, but I figured it would be similar to Mykonos, and I was beginning to miss city life. Plus, the Greek islands are a really nice place to go with a loved one for a romantic getaway of sorts…but alone it’s not so fun.

We were told not to leave the area of the town, because the rest of the island was virtually abandoned at this time of year. It’s OK. I saw plenty of countryside on this trip so far…after a while, a mountain is a mountain and a valley is a valley. I did spend a lot of that afternoon playing guitar in front of my hotel while looking out at the water and town. It was an inspiring view, and I met a few of the sailors who figured I was American…

Next Day:

We hopped on the ferry to Athens. VERY CROWDED and people were smoking cigarettes everywhere so it was hard to escape. I think I second-hand-smoked 3 packs in 6 hours. I managed to quell my fury and bury myself in a book to pass the time. I spent much of the time leaning against the railing, just gazing out into the sea thinking to myself, “I am sailing ancient waters that inspired myth and poetry in the ancients. The Islands I see now were the very same ones seen by the heroes of old as they sailed off to battle…perhaps to Troy or even beyond”. That’s what I thought.

We arrived at the port just outside of Athens and subsequently thought to ourselves “uhhh…what do we do now?” Here is where my new philosophy of making no plans was put to the test. I read in my Let’s Go Europe book of a few hostels that were in the area of the Acropolis, which is really all I wanted to see in Athens. We just didn’t quite know how to get to Athens from the port. We thought about taking the train, but it turns out the train was not working. That left us with the challenge of finding which bus went our way. As we walked towards the buses, we saw in graffiti on the wall of the station “FUCK THE USA!” and the “s” in USA was a swastika. Nice welcome.

A nice Greek was kind enough to tell us we needed to take a bus to the next train station and then a train to Athens. After a lot of maneuvering, we managed to get to the area and find the hostel we wanted to stay at. But! NO ROOMS. Oh crap. We set out to the next hostel on the list and after dragging my bags for what seemed a mile, we arrived. Oh wait! No rooms there either! I was ready to fall into hysterics. Our third try was successful, and we checked into a dumpy place where I fell onto the bed in exhaustion. But I was hungry.  Wendy’s. Sleep. Noise from the streets. Earplugs.

Next Day:

My mission was to go straight to the Acropolis and see the Parthenon, the glorious temple of the Greek Goddess, Athena, namesake of Athens. My whole life, I have dreamed of coming to this place…as a child I was obsessed with Greek mythology. Now, I had arrived. When you come to a place that you have heard about your whole life, and seen pictures of, it becomes real to you. It becomes a part of your reality. Today, a dream of mine was realized. We set out early in the morning to find the Acropolis, which is not hard to see since it’s a mountain plateau smack in the middle of the city. As we approached, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I am sure Jonathan was annoyed and thinking, “Why the hell did I come with this guy?”

We began the ascent up the hill, fighting off the usual torrent of people selling post cards and guide books and made our way up the slope, passing the amphi-theatre where Yanni rocked the house a few years back….bahahahaha….sorry. We bought the overpriced tickets and followed the crowds through the gates, and behold, the Parthenon came into view. I had to stop and gaze. It was beautiful, even in its ruins. It’s falling apart, so there is scaffolding and a crane they are using to replace pillars, but nonetheless, amazing.

I walked around it several times, just looking, staring. I am here. It is real. We sat atop the acropolis for an hour, gazing at the sprawling city that seemed to stretch to no end. A dense cloud of smog hangs over Athens. But the feeling of history here is so immense, in a modern, bustling city, built around the remains of the mother of democracy and western civilization.  I am glad to be here.

OK, thanks for reading. It’s been fun. I will be in Athens for a few more days and then on to the Oracle at Delphi….perhaps my future will be revealed then.

Jared

Jared in Greece – The End

Wow…I am actually at a computer again! You have no idea what I have been through since my last chapter….but I’ll just tell ya this much…there ain’t no computers in the middle of nowhere in Greece.

OK.  It’s been a few days, so I will try my best to fill you in with all the exciting, adventurous details of my excursion through the wild.

After I last wrote to you, I spent one more day in Athens. Athens. What can I say of it?  It is fairly dumpy. The buildings are not much to speak of, and neither are the people for that matter. I encountered so much rudeness and sarcasm from the Greek people, not to generalize or anything, that I was rather turned off. But there are some very nice parts of Athens, for instance the Acropolis and the surrounding areas. There are many quaint, ancient looking streets weaving in and out of the area around the Acropolis, paved with stone and lined with the standard restaurants and gift shops.

The gift shops are full or Greek statuettes, religious icons, and more chess sets. It seems each country has its own chess set to, ahem, pawn on its tourists. Jonathan and I, who were still hangin together at that point, climbed the hill directly across from the Parthenon on our second to last night there. It was like a hike up an ancient mountain, the path looking all old and stuff. The hill was where the ancient Greek senate used to gather…I think…I am not the historian or anything…but it made for a great view of the city and the Acropolis. You could see for miles, and Athens seems to stretch forever. As the sun went down, the city slowly began to light up, and the view of the Parthenon was quite dramatic. The entire Acropolis lit up, and the Parthenon began to glow like a beacon in the middle of chaos. I felt like I was on top of the world…well…Greece anyway.

After a few days in Athens, I was ready to get going. There really isn’t too much going on there, plus the mosquitoes seem to run the place, and they attack at night while you sleep. Each morning, I woke up with a fresh set of bites that itched like crazy…and I was down a few pints of blood. Nothing a little feta cheese couldn’t fix. I was trying to decide where to go next. Jonathan wanted to stay in Athens, and I was ready to leave, so that meant we part company. Fine by me. I decided I had to go to the Oracle at Delphi, since it was the only other place besides the Parthenon that I remembered from my obsession with Greek mythology. I almost didn’t go there in favor of Corinth, but I became convinced when a friend emailed me and said he was psyched about me going there…you know who you are…

So, I managed to find the bus station, which was quite stupidly located very far away from any sort of public transportation. So, I had to hike through the nasto streets of Athens, dodging the crazy drivers, toting my bag on wheels behind me. That was fun. I arrived at the bus station to find that the next bus to Delphi was not for two hours, so I set out to wait in the station and kill some time.

I decided to play some guitar for a bit. I don’t think the people liked that too much…or the dogs who seem to rule the underworld of the bus station. As I was strumming…not singing…only strumming, mind you…a dog approached me and just stared at me for a few minutes. I smiled at the dog and made the stupid noises that people make at dogs…”heeellllooooo puppy!” And it then decided to bare its teeth and began barking viciously at me, like it was preparing to attack. My heart was pounding, and I started to think I would have to hit it with my guitar or something….but some kind Greek came and took the rabid pooch away. Thank the fates for that.

The busride to Delphi was 3 hours long, but I passed the time listening to my cd player and rockin out. The people around me probably thought I was a freak, cuz I really get into music, as you all know, if you have seen me play. The Greek countryside is absolutely beautiful.  I have seen a lot of countryside in my day, but so far, Greece took the cake (up until Italy which is where I am now). Mountains, valleys, rolling plains of ancient stones and fields. Amazing.

We arrived at Delphi, which is a small town set on the side of a mountain, overlooking an incredible valley that empties into the Gulf of Corinth, the body of water separating northern Greece from the Peloponese peninsula. I met some people on the bus, and we decided to try and find a hotel together. We happened upon a hotel that looked decent, and we rang the buzzer. This little old Greek lady came down the stairs, and we attempted to communicate, but it turned into a screaming match when we tried to haggle on the price of the rooms. “You pay 10,000 drachma!” “No, I can only pay 5000!”  “NO!  YOU PAY!!!”  We finally settled on 6000 drachmas for my room…about $18, not so bad to have your own room for that much.

The next day we set out to explore the ruins of the Oracle. It was pretty amazing to come to the place where the ancient temple of Apollo stood for centuries, where the priestesses of Apollo spoke the prophecies of their god to kings and heroes who came to seek his advice. The place, set on the side of the mountain with the same view I just described, FEELS holy. It’s breathtaking. Now, if it weren’t filled with tourists and buses, and people clamoring everywhere, it would have been a lot nicer. But, I climbed the hill, weaved around the paths and all the fallen down columns, to stand before the ruins of the temple where the oracle would sit and dispense the advice of the gods. Apparently, the way it worked was there was a funny smoke that came from the bowels of the temple, and the oracle would stand in the midst of the smoke and speak her words. I wonder what the smoke could have been…hmmmm….any guesses?

After two nights in Delphi, where there is no Internet by the way, I decided to make for Italy.  I had enough of Greece at that point, and I wanted to get to Italy and put some distance behind me. I had a 15-hour boat ride and a 6-hour train ride to Naples ahead, so I needed to get it over with. I hopped on the 3-hour bus ride to Patras, where the ferries to Italy leave from. I arrived just in time to board the boat…it was pulling away from the pier and I had to make a running jump and throw my bags…I just made it….I caught the edge of the boat and hung by my fingers and someone helped me up….whew.  of course, it didn’t happen that way, but it makes for a nice story.

The boat ride was soooo damn long. I didn’t have a cabin or a bed, only an airplane like seat on which to sit….I ended up stretching out on the floor for 12 hours, in broken sleep. Horrendous.

I’m gonna leave it off there…..suffice to say, I am in Naples, Italy right now, and I waiting for some friends to go to Pompeii, the ancient roman city buried in volcanic ash….will write more later.

Jared

Jared in Italy – Part Uno

Bonjourno! To say the least….

I am in Italy! I cannot believe it! I get that feeling every time I arrive somewhere new…I usually go through a state of shock that lasts a few days, but once I settle in to a country, get used to its money and learn a few words, I lose that state of shock. But, it’s only been a day since I arrived, so shocked I be. Let’s go back and say a few more words about that crazy 15-hour boat ride that got me here…..

Put it this way, I still feel like I am rocking back and forth. Boat rides mess with your head. Screws up your equilibrium and stuff. The boat was pretty big….semi luxurious and had 1st and 2nd class cabins….of course I didn’t get a cabin, because it would have been wayyyy expensive to do so. As a matter of fact, I expected to have a free boat ride, because my Eurail pass was supposed to cover it.

I got to Patras, Greece, where all the ferries to Italy leave from, barely in time to catch what I thought would be a 6:00 boat…only to find that my Eurail schedule was a waste of paper. The boat, luckily, wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:00…but the kicker is that Eurail passes are only valid on certain days, and yesterday wasn’t one of them…so if I wanted a free boat ride I would have had to wait two days, and that would have meant spending much more than I would have spent on the ticket, just to stay and wait for the free boat.

So, I bought the ticket, which was roughly $25, but then they nail you with a “port tax” of an extra $6. So, $31 to sit in an airplane seat for 15 hours….but like I said, the boat was pretty nice and you could walk around, up on deck, and they had a bar, restaurant, TV room/Gambling room. But I had to sleep on the boat….no way I was gonna try to stay awake for 15 hours….so in the area where all the airplane seats were located, it wasn’t too full, thankfully. I stretched out on the floor in between a row of seats, bunched up my jacket for a pillow and tried to sleep. I suggest you try to sleep on a hard floor….and report to me the situation with your back……cuz mine hurt like hell. I kept waking up every three hours, shifting around, trying to find a comfortable position….and you can get pretty creative in these situations…feet up on the chairs, back on floor…or crunched up on a seat….or the fetal position….you name it. It was like this that I passed 15 hours. Some of the time I spent up on deck where I met a guy named Aaron, who I ended up coming to Naples with.

So, we arrived. Let me tell you, I was pretty nervous about coming to Italy, because many people have told me stories of pickpockets, thieves, groups of kids pulling scams on you….gypsy women throwing their babies at you, forcing you to catch them out of reflex, thereby occupying your arms long enough for a kid to stick his hand in your pocket and make off with your wallet…..so by the time we pulled into the port at Brindisi, I was expecting to have to beat off hordes of kids and baby throwing women as I got off the boat.

Well, of course I was over worked about the whole thing. I didn’t even see one gypsy kid as I walked from the port to the train station. Actually, Brindisi turned out to be a nice little town. I hung out with Aaron, and we had some time to kill before our train to Naples (we had both decided Naples would be a good first stop to see Pompeii), so we made our way to the first Pizza place we could find. Mission:  In Italy, must eat pizza. They don’t sell it by the slice here, so you have to order a whole pie, but the pie wasn’t too big and easy enough for two healthy boyz to chow readily. It was good pizza, but honestly folks, we got it better in NYC. OH YEAH.

The train ride from Brindisi, which is on the east coast of Italy down near the beginning of the boot, to Naples, on the west coast, took about 6 hours. Before this train ride, I thought Greece had the best countryside I had ever seen…but Italy beats Greece, hands down. Everything is so green…fields, hills, mountains, rolling plains….tons of farms and vineyards…you can see grapes growing just about everywhere….it looked just like it does in the movies.

I passed the time on the train playing some guitar and singing my entire list of cover songs.  An Italian girl named Daniella came and sat with us in our cabin….oh by the way, you sit in cabins with two rows of 3 seats, facing each other…..and she was clearly drunk, because of the way she smelled and acted….and she only spoke Italian, so we had a hard time communicating, but she motioned to me that she wanted to play my guitar…so I let her. She couldn’t really play, but I was nice about it…smiled a lot….encouraged her….until she started banging on it while strumming, and she had a metal watch on which could have scratched up the surface….so I swiftly snatched it back and said “Bueno! Graci!” She smiled and mumbled some more and eventually left, saying “Ciao!”

So, I had heard a lot about Naples (Napoli) before coming here….mostly bad stuff….like it’s very dirty, there are pickpockets everywhere….the Mafia runs the town…it’s crime infested….etc. My reason for coming here is that I wanted to see Pompeii, a Roman city whose ruins are remarkably preserved, because it was buried in volcanic ash when Mt. Vesuvia erupted and spewed its lava all over the area (that sounds gross…) in 79 AD. But I was definitely nervous about coming to Naples for all the aforementioned reasons. As the train neared Naples, the landscape got progressively more dirty and city-ish. Mt. Vesuvia, Europe’s only still active volcano, loomed in the distance, overshadowing the entire area. If Vesuvia erupted, that would be the end of Naples and the entire Amalfi coast. The train pulled into the station as I readied myself for war against the pickpockets….

Exit train station. Immediately I felt like I just walked out of Port Authority on 42nd street and 8th avenue….but before Rudy took over and cleaned it up a bit. Shoddy looking people everywhere…vendors lining the streets selling the same crap we have in NY….like the little rubix cubes, or barking dog dolls that move their heads….I felt like I was home. It did not feel safe, and I did not like it, right off the bat.

The rumors were true. So I held onto my stuff tightly as we made our way through the scary people to the hostel we wanted to stay at. Of course, when we arrived, there was no rooms available….so yet again begins the quest for a place to stay. We checked around at a bunch of hotels, but most of them were overpriced, and you couldn’t stay there unless you were a card-carrying member of the Mafia. Finally, we found a place for 80,000 lira a night, per room…about $40….so Aaron and I shared a room, $20 each…not so bad.  But imagine staying in a dumpy hotel right near Penn station….that’s where I am right now.

As we were dragging our bags up the stairs to our room, the front door of the hotel opened. In walked an old man, hair greased back, shades, pin stripe overcoat slinked over his shoulders….2 young Italians covering his back in Dick Tracey looking suits. The receptionist/owner looked nervous and began to say, “I’ll pay!  I’ll pay!” And some money was handed over. The old man looked satisfied. Then he leaned towards the owner, grabbed him by the collar and said in rough, whisper-like voice, “Bambino….. never…never….never go against the family.” He pulled out his gun and pistol-whipped the owner, turned around and walked out. We locked ourselves in our room….only to come out for pizza and beer.

Next morning, we made our way to Pompeii. There is a train called the CircumVesuvia, which connects Naples to the other towns around the bay of Naples, and stops at Pompeii. The ride was 40 minutes.  Out of the right side of the window you could see Mt. Vesuvia towering over everything. What if it erupts? I might be buried in lava like the Romans! Oh my! So, Pompeii, ancient Roman city, being buried in lava for 2000 years and all, is pretty much a scene of Roman daily life frozen and preserved quite well for us to check out.

The lava encased the entire city and kept intact many of the houses, streets, bodies of its citizens, mosaics, paintings……quite fascinating. They have plaster molds of people still in the positions they were in as the lava rained down on them, enveloping their remains in stone, to be revealed again only by modern archaeology. It is quite eerie to see these molds and the positions people made as they died….with their arms over their faces…or crouched with their knees against their chests. Looked pretty painful. You can actually go into some of the houses and see murals on the walls, or the original doors, still encased in lava rock. The murals are fascinating…many of them depicting sexual exploits, different positions, and various other erotic artwork. Romans lived very decadent lives, at least the rich ones anyway. I took tons of pictures of Pompeii….hope my camera is working…guess I’ll see when I get the film developed.

That night, we decided to check out Naples and see if there was anything in town that was worth seeing. After filling up on pizza and Gelato (their version of ice cream, and goooood), we began walking. Everything looked closed and there were not many people on the streets…and the ones who were there didn’t look very friendly. We passed a few packs of bad boys who were eyeing us….we just kept walking. The city looks nice, but I think the safety factor sorta kills the experience. And then, as we walked, a stray dog jumped out and started barking wildly, teeth bared….what the hell is it with me and stray dogs?!?! They must have a conspiracy to attack me wherever I go in the world. I yelled at it and stamped my feet at it…hoping it would go away, but it just kept advancing. I guess we were in its territory. My heart was racing, again, and I slowly walked backward away from the vicious pooch. After a while, we put some distance between us and its territory, and it backed off. I was getting ready for some fight or flight action…..but I lucked out again.

Naples is a dump….don’t come here. If you want to see Pompeii, stay in Sorrento, which I hear is much nicer, and I am going there tomorrow. I will be checking out the Amalfi coast, supposedly some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world….and the island of Capri, also supposedly amazing and touristy.

Before I leave Italy, I absolutely have to hear someone say, “Mama Mia!” I also gotta hear some good accordion music….

Well, that’s all I have to say about Italy so far…..thanks for reading.

Jared

Jared in Italy – Part Deux

Mangia Mangia….oy, that’s all I’ve been doing. If I lost any weight in Turkey or Greece, surely Italy will have remedied that by the time I leave here. I have eaten pizza and Gelato for every single meal since I have arrived here……here is an analogy for you.

Carpet shops:Turkey, ________:Italy. If you guessed Pizzerias, you win the Cannoli. They vary from great to “eh”, but the great ones are pretty serious in their pizza making craft….mama mia. And, no I haven’t heard anyone say it yet. But I have seen a lot of old ladies hanging their clothes out to dry, so that’s pretty stereotypical.

I ditched Naples, big dump, for Sorrento, a nicer and smaller town on the other side of the Bay of Naples. Today is my second day here, and Jupiter has cursed his land with rain. He must have known I was coming and didn’t want to me to enjoy the full affect of the Amalfi coast. But damn him, I have seen some pretty cool stuff. It was raining as I arrived in Sorrento, so I had to drag my bags around, getting them all wet, during the usual quest for a place to stay. I finally found a hostel, and I went way out of my way to do so…if Woody had made a left instead of a right, this never would have happened (getting all wet). So, I checked into the hostel, found out I had the room all to myself, cried out in joy at that fact, and set out to explore thisa fina towna.

It looks pretty Italian…how can I describe it? Think of all the pictures and movies you have seen about Italy…..and there ya have it. Italians talk just like you would imagine. You walk into a store, or a restaurant, and they say “Prego!” I guess it’s more than a spaghetti sauce….it actually means “welcome”.  When Italians talk in English, the accent is pretty much like you would expect:  “You want to a go a to a the stahhhtione? You musta make a righta and thena lefta…prego.” Hand gestures abound as well….take your thumb, press it together with your index and middle finger, while folding your pinky and ring finger to your palm. Wave back and forth generously.

The weather for the last two days has been crud. I so badly wanted to go see the Amalfi coast, but you really can’t get the full affect of it when it’s drizzling and overcast. You need the sun to illuminate the land! But I did get a taste…I met up with a New Zealand chap whose granddaddy is Italian, and he was here to visit for a while. We walked all over Sorrento and down to the port where all the ferries leave to Capri. The entire coast of the bay looks like cliff walls that are holding back the towns, seemingly built into the mountainside. I am sure it would be amazing when the sun is out, but even then it looked so dang impressive.

After taking leave of the chap, I returned to the hostel to find someone had checked into my room! How dare they? Well, at least he took the bed on the far side of the room. But when he fell asleep that night, he began snoring like a horse in labor. My luck. Earplugs in and all…but I could still feel the vibrations. Somehow I managed to fall asleep, but the next morning, he went first into the bathroom and stayed there for at least an hour. I wondered what he could have been doing. I heard the shower go on, and then off, and then 10 minutes later, on again. Making all kinds of gagging noises and grunts…I was getting a little worried that I’d have to call the authorities. After 45 minutes, I was gettin kinda antsy and knocked on the door saying “hello??? Can you hurry up there?” No answer. Ten minutes later, he began to struggle with the door, but couldn’t open it. I laughed to myself. Finally he got it open and stood stark naked in front of me….and he said “wha?” I was a bit shocked, and shifting my eyes quickly to the window, I said, “How much longer will you be? I need to get ready”. No answer…he closed the door…more strange noises…hacking and coughing…and he came out about half an hour later….how bothersome.

The morning weather was a bit cloudy with a few spots where the sun broke through.  I decided to make for Capri…I was either going to see the Amalfi coast and Capri, or just leave and go to Rome. I had heard so much about how amazing the landscape was, so I decided I had to do it.

Walked down to the port, paid the 28,000 lira for the boat ride, boarded the boat, set sail and enjoyed the view. I have been on a lot of boat rides so far on my journey, so it felt pretty standard. As we approached Capri, I was reminded of my several approaches to the Greek islands….very similar. Capri, apparently, was the home of Roman Emperor Tiberius, who had built several villas there. The port town was pretty standard…gift shops and restaurants. Everything was extremely expensive.

I wanted to see the Blue Grotto, a cave bored out by water in the cliff side of the mountain that is illuminated by light passing through holes in the rocks under the water; thereby, giving the whole cavern an eerie blue glow. It was pretty neat. I took a boat to the Grotto, paying 9,000 lira for the ride, thinking that was my ticket to get in, but when I got there, I had to get on another boat at which time they informed me that I had to pay another 15,000 lira. I was in shock. How many more people would I have to pay before I got to see the damn grotto? But it was nice. The guy who rowed my boat through the cavern was singing opera all the while…I guess for effect. “Oooohhhh, sooolo mioooooo”. What does that mean anyway?

After the blue grotto, I checked out the two towns on this small island. Very quaint and the views were lovely. What else can I say? It’s all starting to look the same….

It began raining while I was still on Capri, so I caught the first boat back to the mainland, heading for the hostel and dry clothes. That’s where I am right now, drinking a cheap beer and hoping to meet some fellow travelers this evening. I have been reading Lord of The Rings, and it’s really great….check it out, if you haven’t already.

May Gelato be with you, always…

Ciao.

Jared

Jared in ROME!!!

Intro:  Accordion, soft, sweet tune…sets a nice mood…conjures up images of romance and relaxed dining….

I have arrived in ROME! Unbelievable! I think perhaps this is the most shocked I have felt on this entire trip, because Rome is so full of places and things that are icons in western history, and to see them and touch them is like reaching for a valuable jewel, holding it and knowing it is real.

The sights, sounds, and smells of this city are perhaps the most impressionable of any city I have been as of yet. It is truly a beautiful city. No words can really describe the feeling that I have of history and culture right now. Immense. To know that I am in the city that was the seat of the greatest and most influential empire to ever grace (and then wreck) this earth, is a profound realization.

To walk around and see all the architecture…..to wander the back streets and little alleys full of shops and restaurants….to see some of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen…and people of this place who rush to and fro…I bet they take it for granted. The architecture looks….well….Roman. What can I say? We all know what Roman architecture looks like…it has influenced so much of our own, even in New York City. If you served jury duty, you know what our courthouses look like. If you have ever been to Washington DC, you know what many of our government buildings look like. Well, you have tons and tons of that type of buildings here, but it looks so much more authentic, ancient, and colorful.  In fact, all the ones we have are copies of the ones here!

I arrived yesterday by train. It was a three hour ride from Naples. I was glad to leave Naples behind. But the gods snubbed me with sunny weather on the day I gave up the hope of seeing the Amalfi coast. Well, I saw parts of it anyway, but without the sun, it wasn’t so incredible. Oh well, you win some and you lose some. The train ride passed through some pretty impressive landscape….as we neared Rome, mountains started to spring up. I thought to myself, “Hmmm…these are pretty ancient mountains…the same that Caesar himself looked upon.” How profound of me.

We pulled into the train station, called Termeni. I got smart and booked a hostel in advance, because I heard it was getting pretty busy in Rome and I might have a hard time if I just show up and start the typical quest. I was glad I booked it, cuz I had a destination straight away, and that always makes it easier. But the problem is you never know what yer gonna git, if you book ahead. Gamble.

Once I checked in and got settled, I made a beeline for the nearest laundromat….whoa boy, was I in need. After dropping off the goods, I decided the absolute first thing I must do is go to the Coliseum.I mean, that is THE epitome of Rome and Italy, pretty much, right? It was a bit of a walk, but walking is the best way to see and get to know a new city.  I set out.

As I walked down the avenue called Via Cavour, I approached the Coliseum piazza…and I caught a glimpse of it through an alley way. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I stared. I thought “Whoa. That’s the freaking Coliseum. I am in freaking ITALY. THIS IS ROME. HOLY SHIT!”  Nothing I had seen so far in Italy had really brought home the fact that I was in Italy. But when I saw the Coliseum, it was a pretty heavy realization. It’s one of those things you see in movies, in books, or hear about all your life….it’s like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Empire State Building in NYC. It’s THE thing you associate with Rome, more than anything else, at least for me. And there I stood, in its very presence. I kept walking until it came into full view. There is no way to explain how it feels to come to a place like this. I hope I am doing a good job.

The whole area was crowded with tourists, as expected. Around the Coliseum, you have a lot of the standard sights and archeological areas, so it’s a big attraction. I went to the entrance and bought a ticket and went inside. Again, I thought, “I am standing in THE (insert exclamatory 4 letter word) Coliseum!!” It was here that the Romans staged some of the most elaborate spectacles of ancient history, from naval battles to Gladiators fighting for their lives against lions, to prisoners being thrown to the very same lions, much to the amusement of the roaring crowds who gathered to watch in gory fascination. It was here that the Emperors gave their famous “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” calls when the life of a prisoner was in question. Thumbs up, he lives. Thumbs down, he dies. It was all for the sake of entertainment. And there I stood in amazement. I tried to imagine what it must have been like…but I don’t think anyone can ever really know the depth of what went on here.

By the way, I have not been pick pocketed yet. No one has thrown a baby at me…though I saw one women who looked like a baby thrower…. but I folded my arms and passed her by….

After I left the Coliseum…I was there for several hours, just taking it in…I went back to my hostel, after picking up my clean laundry (oh thank gawd!). I met some people who were staying in the same room as me, and we all decided to go to a “Pub Crawl.” Anyone know about these? WHY HAVEN’T YOU TOLD ME THEN??? I had such a good time. Basically, you pay a flat fee and drink as much as you could want for an hour, and then pay discounted prices for whatever else you drink. You all get together at one bar, stay there for a bit, then go to another, and then another, and then another….and each place gives you a free shot. Needless to say, I was more wrecked then I have been in a great while.  Wrecked in Rome. I met some really cool people and had a great time hanging out. It was nice, because I was feeling a bit lonely. We started at 7:30pm, so by midnight I was pretty ready for bed. Took a cab back to the hostel. Found out about “night fees.” RIP OFF.

I’ve still been eating pizza for almost every meal. Gelato too. Can’t get enough. Found a cheap pizza place near my hostel…they cut you a slab and then weigh it….

Next Morning:

Woke up. Waited approximately one hour for my chance to bathe…ate pizza for breakfast….set out to explore. I headed for the area of the Coliseum again, because that’s where a lot of the sights are located, as I stated above.

I wanted to go to the Palatine Hill, the plateau where the Emperors and senators lived, and one of the first settlements of the city. I climbed up the hill, turned around and got another view of the Coliseum, had another wave of shock…and then plowed forward. The ruins on the Palatine Hill are not as impressive as the knowledge of what went on there…but I can save you the history lesson…look it up…truth is I don’t have a clue.

After the Palatine Hill, I went to the Roman Forum, which is a huge conglomeration of ruined temples and buildings that were important to the empire. Between the two, I spent maybe an hour and a half.  From the Forum, I walked a ways to the Pantheon, an impressive building of 2000 years, housing a perfect semi-circle dome made entirely of poured concrete, as well as some fascinating statues and paintings.

Onward. Had to cover the bases. Next I went to the Fontain Di Trevi, the absolute most beautiful water fountain I have ever seen. It comes out of the side of a building and water cascades down several tiers, in the midst of daunting statues of the gods and heroes.I threw a few coins in, at my mother’s request. It’s a tradition…..

Moving on, I went to the area called Campo De Fiori, which, under Papal rule, was where lots of nasty executions occurred. Now, it’s basically a vegetable and meat market, but there is an eerie statue in the middle of it of a hooded guy looking down…he looks all evil and stuff. Coooooool. I sat under the shade of the statue and read a bit of Lord of The Rings. I was getting tired at that point, because much walking was taking place in between all these sights. It’s a HUGE city ya know.

Afterward, I made my way to the Jewish Ghetto. Being a Jew, I had to see it. Nothing much of the Ghetto still exists, but it was fascinating to know I stood in the midst of what it once was. There is the Ashkenazi Synagogue, inside the former Ghetto, which is an immense and beautifully adorned building. There are 16,000 Jews living in Rome today…many of whom are descended from Jews who came in 160 BC, sent by Judah Macabee to request that the Romans help the Israelites defend their land against the Assyrians….so I saw that too.

I did a lot of walking and stopping to sit where there were amazing views, and that was many many times. There are so many breathtaking sights and views, that it is really sensory overload. It’s late in the afternoon of my first full day here, and I am very tired from all the walking. Tomorrow I am meeting Rob, owner of the Luna Lounge…he’s coming to Rome for a little vacation and we’re gonna hang for a day while he waits for his woman to join him. Come on down, Rob.

I think that’s it for now. My feet really hurt. Need a nap. I’m getting old. Last night I hung out with 18 years olds…I have never hung out with someone born after 1980…weird for me….

Till next time,

CIAO!

Jared

Jared and the Pope

Great news! I have been completely forgiven of all of my sins! How cool is that? You see, this year has been declared a Jubilee Year by the Vatican, and if you walk through the Holy Door at the St. Peters Basilica, you get your slate wiped clean free of charge! Once I found that out, I was psyched to know I could sin up a storm in Rome and make one last trip to the Holy Door before hopping on the train as a forgiven man.

I have been doing some exciting stuff. Let me see if I can do a recap for y’all…I am sitting in an Internet cafe and it’s about to close, so this may very well be written in chapters over a day or two.

Yesterday morning, I checked out of my dormitory hostel, because I was thrown out on my ass due to lack of room….hmmm…what to do….well, I had a busy day ahead of me because Rob, illustrious owner of the Luna Lounge (a kick ass club in NYC that I play at a lot) was coming to town for a little romantic getaway with his woman, but he had a day to kill in Rome and we had been planning to meet each other and chill for a few hours. Plus, I also had a friend that I met in Athens, Jeff, coming into Rome the same day and we planned to get a room together and travel ensemble for a while. He wanted me to book a hotel in Rome so that he could have a place to go when he got off the plane, all tired and ragged, needing sleep…and I also needed to coordinate with Rob, so I figured it would just be best to check into Rob’s hotel, give Jeff the address, meet Rob for the day and come back in the evening to meet Jeff. Well, it all went super smooth. I booked a room in Rob’s hotel, showed up, checked in, left a message for Jeff and met up with Rob.

(Rob, it was great to see you man…I had an awesome time hangin in Rome with you…one of the best days of my trip so far…)

Rob and I walked all around, saw the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon…pretty much all the stuff I had seen already…but it was good to do it again, because I began to feel like I really knew the city…and that was my goal here. We pigged on some Gelato and took in the atmosphere. We ended up getting lost in Palukaville Rome while trying to find these underground Catacombs where all kinds of ancient dead people are buried…but we got super lost and walked all over the place. We ended up seeing the original walls of the city, from way back in its earliest days.

I am still floored by this place…it is so beautiful and I hope to come back many times in my life. BY the way my feet hurt like living hell, because I have been walking so much…but I think I have lost a few pounds and I am feeling mighty fine.

After I left Rob around 6:30pm (he had to pick up his woman at the airport and light the fire…), I went back to my room to find that Jeff had checked in and everything worked out according to my evil plan. It turns out the hotel is a bit of a hike from the center of town, so we had to hop the train and ride on into town. We had an immediate dilemma to solve of where we would be staying the following night, because Rob’s hotel was kicking us out cuz of reservations…so we walked around for a bit, looking for hotels, but they were all crazy expensive. Ended up finding a cheaper hostel type of place near the Vatican….

Ahhh, the Vatican. Seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the most powerful entity in the world. In fact, it’s an autonomous country. They have their own coins printed, as well as their own stamps and post. They make their own laws and do as they please…wielding much influence over the world at large….and it’s perhaps the most amazing complex of buildings I have ever seen….home to some of the most incredible works of art ever made, at the hands of Michelangelo, Raphael, just to name a few….housing the Sistine Chapel, the Basilica of St. Peter, the Pieta, a Papal McDonalds, incredible architecture in general, and an all around kick ass view. Swarms and swarms of people gather here to see the place, its museums, all the sights I just mentioned, and also hordes of pilgrims come to attend Mass and maybe catch a glimpse of John Paul, the man himself. He appears in a little window every now and then, and I am sure that causes quite a ruckus when he does…he is, after all, to Catholics, God’s chief rep.

So, the next morning, we cabbed over to the new hotel, checked in, threw our crap on the beds and hauled to the Vatican. It closes at 1:00pm on Saturdays, and we didn’t want to miss a thing. By the way, I feel like I have checked in and out of so many hotels and hostels, sometimes I strain to remember where I stayed last night, or what my current place looks like. This trip has been one big series of check ins and check outs.

So, we made our way to the Vatican. As we approached, you could see the walls of the city that stretch a great distance, encircling the entire complex and meeting at the great big plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope I am spelling Basilica right…. I am sure many of you have flipped through the Christmas Mass broadcasts at the Vatican on Christmas Eve…all that takes place in St. Peters. Recently, when the Pope decided to apologize for all the sins of the Church throughout its mighty long history of sinning, they had a big to-do in St. Peters that was broadcast as well. So, you may have seen it at some point.  But, you cannot even begin to fully grasp the enormity of the place…not just the Basilica, but the entire plaza that stands before it, surrounded by marble columns….so magnificent…no wonder people feel as though they are entering a holy place.

We didn’t go into St. Peters right away because the Vatican Museum closed at 1:00pm and that was where we had to go in order to see another little shack that you may have heard of…ohh, just a little itty bitty place called the Sistine Chapel. Ring a bell? Michelangelo laid on his back for 8 years on top of scaffolding, painting the ceiling full of scenes from the Bible…the most famous of which is the Creation of Man, in which you see God and Adam almost touching the tips of their fingers….I think Steven Spielberg ripped that off when he made E.T. (ouuuuuch….Eeeeelllliot…..boooo boooo.)

So, we walked around the walls to the entrance of the museum, only to find a line that was at least a mile long. It stretched around the corner for another mile, so it seemed. But, it was moving steadily, and we didn’t wait for more than 1/2 an hour. As we approached the entrance, looming in front was a sign for our favorite chain of world dominators, McDonald’s. I guess the Pope needs a fix every now and then too. They have all kinds of special products, like the McPapal Shake, Carbonated Holy Water, Supersized Holy Fries, and if you purchase a value meal, you get one voucher for a free transgression.  Mmmm…..transgressions….

We entered the museum and paid the RIDICULOUS price of $9 to get in…as if the Vatican needed more money…and began to make our way to the Sistine Chapel, as did everyone else, because it’s pretty much the only thing that average sinners like me have heard of….we followed the signs. They lead you through a veritable maze of hallways and corridors that are so incredible, I was aghast.

The ceilings were adorned with gold and it seemed that each corner of every part was hand painted in the finest detail with scenes from the Bible, angelic figures, Christ, Mary, the whole gang. It was so impressive. The hallways went on forever, and they lead through the Frescos of Raphael (yes, Joseph, I had to see them, lest you never speak to me again…). Raphael was commissioned to paint the Pope’s apartments and boy did he do a good job….creating such dramatic scenes in beautiful detail, it was so breathtaking. Each room had a sign that read, “Sistine Chapel”, and pointed in a direction.

So after each room, I was sure the next room had to be the Sistine Chapel, but I had to wait a long time and see a lot of statues, paintings, hallways, and stuff before we reached it. Finally, we began descending down some stairs and we heard recordings saying, “You are entering the Sistine Chapel. Please observe silence and refrain from flash photography. This is a holy place.” As we finally entered the Chapel, we were greeted by a million tourists swarming about yelling at each other and snapping pictures of the ceiling with abandon…sneaky folks…so much for the Holy respect. The actual Sistine Chapel didn’t look much like I expected…but it was still impressive. Jeff and I craned our necks upward for 20 minutes, checking out all the paintings that I recognized from books….the Last Judgment…the Creation of Man. There they were, and I was amazed that yet again, I was standing in a place that I had heard of my whole life. That’s been happening to me a lot lately.

After that, we checked out the rest of the museum and sat in the Vatican courtyard for a bit, enjoying the view of the domes and gardens. One word – Amazing. For all the issues that I may have with this entity called the Church, and I won’t get into them here, I will give them this:  They sure do know how to build a Holy looking place. We left the courtyard and went back to the Plaza of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Intermission:  Pizza & Gelato

I am back.

I wanted to go into St. Peter’s, cuz that is where all the sh*t goes down. So, we headed up through the doors, which were full of masses of people trying to get in. We passed the threshold and little did I know that, at that very moment, God gave me a complete and full pardon for all those Transformers I lifted from Sears when I was a kid……lucky for me…cuz that would have been enough to send me straight to hell, without passing GO. (By the way I passed through the town of Monopoly on a train ride a few days ago.)

What can I say of St. Peter’s? YOU NEED TO COME HERE. Words just cannot describe this building. As if the outside were not impressive enough, the inside was just sensory overload…domes, paintings, statues, carvings, huge altars, gold everywhere, all the trimmings. Unreal. And it is HUGE. As you walk through the Holy Door, immediately to the right you have Michelangelo’s Pieta, his famous statue of Jesus, laying dead in Mary Magdalene’s arms.

Check off another thing on the list of stuff I have heard about my whole life. Boom. Snapped a picture of that. There were millions of people, some pilgrims praying, others just groping around in amazement at clearly some of the most magnificent artwork and architecture ever made. Me too…I just roamed around and gawked. So amazing. OK, I have said that enough…but really, it was incredible.

As Jeff and I were gawking, all the sudden, hordes of people started to funnel through these ropes, up to the front of the Cathedral where the altar was. We wondered what was happening…maybe the Pope was gonna come out or something…so we got into the horde and found a seat in the pew. There I was, a Jew in the Pew…in the Vatican, in Rome, the source of so much misery for my people, yet I could not help but be drawn in by the power of the place. It wasn’t religious…I certainly wasn’t converted…but it was so inspiring to be there. We sat down and waited for the action to begin. What were we about to see? I kept poking Jeff and saying, “I am gonna shit if the Pope comes out…” Imagine that…If I saw the Pope at the Vatican…how many people can make such a claim?

But, no Pope; however, they commenced holding Mass. Now, I had never been to a Mass before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But they began playing this incredible gothic organ music that filled the cathedral with eerie notes of inspiring resonance. The crowd began to sing. In walked a procession of priests and altar boys carrying giant crosses made of gold….and the singing became intense. Singing, Latin liturgy, more singing, more organ, then some handshaking….and then the Communion. That’s when we decided to bolt….I couldn’t take communion even if I wanted to….

What an experience. What a place. They certainly built it to feel like heaven on earth. Me, a Jew, I could appreciate it as one of the most amazing creations of mankind ever, and it felt spiritual…but that’s as far as it goes.

Later that day I met some friends who I originally met in Turkey…Frazer and Katrina Cain…a really cool couple from Vancouver who came to Rome at the same time. Had a blast with them for a few hours and called it a night.

Next day, hopped on a train to Florence. Yep, I’m in Florence now. Just went to see Michelangelo’s David. Let me tell you, I am continually amazed with all these works of art, but as far as statues go, David is by far the most incredible sculpture I have ever laid eyes on. The details are phenomenal. I dig Florence so far…just got here, so I have yet to do much else but get rained on…

So, I will wrap it up now. Thanx for reading and see ya next time…

Pontificus Jaredicus Maximus

Jared in Venice

Well Hidey Ho! This trip o’ mine just keeps getting more interesting every day!

After I got forgiven of all my sins in Rome, Jeff and I took a train to Florence…it was a 3-hour ride. We could have taken the EuroStar train in one hour had we known how cheap it was to buy a supplement for a rail passes…whatever.

So, Florence. Medieval and stuff. City of Michelangelo, Dante, Monticello, Leonardo, and several other Mutant Ninja Turtles. I have not been blessed with good weather in recent days, so I have to say the scenery was considerably diminished by the lack of sun. WHY ME? I mean, how often do I come to Italy? You’d think the Earth would cut me some slack, but I guess not.

We checked into our hotel, to a find a biting dog waiting for us on the chair next to the receptionist desk…I was about to pet him when the lady behind the desk said, “Trickie da bita”….and I looked at her with a dumb blank expression. Turns out she was trying to tell me that Tricky, the dog, was a biter…there’s your accent again for ya. So I left the dog alone…I don’t need anymore dog attacks on my trip!

Florence is really beautiful. I have to say I liked Rome better…a lot more going on there. But Florence has some really nice places…its set along a river and there are all kinds of very old looking buildings and bridges across the river. There is a big plaza with a castle looking thing and many beautiful statues around…in the middle is the spot of the Bonfire of the Vanities where much priceless art that was burnt at the hands of the religionists. The main attraction of the city is a HUGE church called the Duomo….its facade is quite incredible, made of adorned and colorful marble, and the inside is rather plain looking except for the dome, which is painted with incredible scenes that look to be straight out of Dante’s Inferno…I think one inspired the other, though I am not sure which came first…

The highlight of Florence for me was Michelangelo’s statue of David. I suggest you look at pictures on the Internet. I was so impressed, I stared for at least 1/2 an hour. Michelangelo’s creation was so real looking, so perfectly proportioned…it looked like a real human body. There David stood, his sling over his shoulder, stark naked, looking off into the distance….and his mouse was out of the house. One thing Michelangelo forgot to do was chop off the foreskin…David was a Jew, after all….

We blew out of Florence a day later…I wasn’t so in love with it…I mean, it was nice and all, but I had just come from Rome, and to me, there was no comparison.

Took the fast train to Venice…3 hours later, I was utterly floored by a city that is so beautiful, magnificent, and dwarfing then any other city or place I have ever been to, anywhere. Venice is so amazing. We got off the train, got conned by a hotel hocker, given directions on where to go, and we set out. The instant I walked out of the station, my jaw dropped. In front of me was the main canal and water taxis and gondolas went up and down with fervor. The buildings look so medieval…it looked like I was in Disney World, but real. I can’t describe how incredible this place is…there are no words.

We got onto the water taxi and took it four stops to where our hotel was located. We found the place and discovered the rooms didn’t look quite like they did in the brochures…this tiny room with two small beds and ZERO space to walk around, cost $80 a night. Rip. Venice, apparently is very expensive, but it’s worth it to see this beautiful city. We set out of the hotel and began walking around the narrow streets, crossing bridges over the many canals…I felt like I was in Madonna’s Like a Virgin video…touched for the very first time. It was great.

So, I have been in Venice for a few hours now…just hung out in San Marco’s square for a bit. I refer you to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade…lots of clips of Venice. Once again, no words can really describe how awesome it is to be here…I feel so….overcome…with…..Gelato.

Pardon me, my gondola is waiting. Venice, another place I have heard of and always dreamed of coming to! And Josh, I think it IS built on Tree Trunks! But, I think it’s sinking and in a few hundred years, it may be no more…heaven forbid.

Jared

Jared in Germany

Yodelayheeeehoooooo!

Hello everyone…I am now in Munich, Germany, and this will be short, because I have to catch a train to some medieval castles in 20 minutes, but I wanted to write and give a short update….

After my last note, I stayed in Venice for another day. What a beautiful city. I can’t say that enough. The canals, the facades of the buildings, the people, the stores, the air, the boats, the gondolas, and the unique way of life that exists nowhere else that I know of…incredible.

On my second to the last night there, I decided I wanted to do a little public playing, so I searched out the most beautiful bridge I could find, overlooking a canal that stretched down a medieval looking water alley. I stood on the bridge and began to sing softly. Immediately, a whole crowd of people gathered around me, and started requesting different songs. Pretty soon the whole bridge was full of people sitting down, talking amongst themselves, watching me play, listening intently. I went through my list of covers and some originals….and I put out my hat to see if I could make some money and within minutes it was nearly full…I made $10 in less than half an our….hello dinner! What a great experience!

The next night was the first night of Passover, and I was feeling bad that I didn’t have a seder to go to. I felt pretty disconnected. I am not a religious person, but it feels good for me to be a part of the Jewish holidays. As I was moping about it, I decided to walk to the train station to check the schedule for trains to Switzerland, my next destination. On the way to the station, I passed through the Jewish Ghetto section of Venice. That made me even more sad about not having a seder. But then, I crossed a bridge, and on the right I saw a whole crowd of people gathered around a table, wearing Yarmulkes, preparing for Passover. I thought to myself to go over to them, that I belonged with them, and that they would not turn me away.

So I did…I went up to one of the people bustling around getting ready, and I said to him in Hebrew, “Ani Yehudi, aval ein li shulchan Pesach” (“I am Jewish and I have no Passover Table”). Without any questions or hesitation, he said to me, “Here is your Pesach Table”. I almost cried. There were no seats left, and the whole place was completely full, but there was one empty seat being held by a woman who was waiting for her husband. She said I could sit there until he arrived. He never came. It´s like there was one seat left, just for me. There I was, in Venice, in the Medieval Jewish Ghetto, celebrating the Passover with Jews from Italy who didn´t know me from Adam, but accepted me without hesitation. What a beautiful tradition and common bond we all share.

The next day I took off for Switzerland where I met up with Elyse in the capitol city of Bern.  Not too much going on there, and the airport was basically a tent with a runway….but we met up without incident.Next day we went to Interlaken, the prime tourist spot in Switzerland….right in the middle of the alps. Pretty dramatic mountains. We had a serious view from the hotel window…unreal to think I was in the midst of such mountains…snow capped, jagged peaks with little guys blowing horns and shouting “Ricola!” We took a cable car to the top of a mountain and spent an hour just gazing at nature’s creations….

Next day we hopped a train to Munich, Germany, from where we will see some Castles and Medieval towns and stuff…and then Dachau…a concentration camp. Don´t know how I am gonna make it through that one…but I will do it…it´s my duty to see such a thing a remember and understand what happened. So that´s where I am now…tomorrow we head to Prague!

Will write more when I can, probably after May 1st I will do more writing….

Jared

Jared in Germany – Part Deux

Whoa…I have been a lightning streak all across this dang continent! Last I wrote to you, I was in Munich, Germany, getting ready to visit some castles and stuff, and I will tell ya all about it.

Right now I am in Prague! Elyse and I decided to make the trek out here…it was an eight hour ride from Munich and we had to switch trains twice…we passed a lot of freaky little towns with really old looking stations, and a lot of train tracks that were overgrown with grass. They brought images of cattle cars and deportation to mind.

For the entire time I was in Germany, I really could not help but be overshadowed by the fact that this is where the holocaust took place. I mean, I tried very hard to see it objectively, and it is very beautiful land – don’t get me wrong – some of the most beautiful landscape I have yet to see, but everywhere I turn, I can’t help but think about the enormity of what happened. In every town I see, I wonder about what may have occurred there…and every elderly person I see, I wonder what role they may have played in the holocaust. Some of you may say that I have allowed emotion to overtake me and ruin the German experience,  but to you, I say this, “Come to Germany and visit Dachau. It’s a concentration camp. Look at the ovens. Stand in the gas chambers. Touch the barbed wire. Then talk to me”.

OK, so Germany was very beautiful. After I left you last, we hopped a train to a town called Fussen, which is close to the Austrian border and the the end of a region called the Romantic Road, a stretch of Bavaria containing much beauty, many castles and medieval towns. Fussen itself wasn’t much to rave about, but it is the base from which to explore two pretty dramatic castles built by Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria in the 1800s.

The castle that we decided to visit was the Neuwenstein Castle, if I can spell that right…and it looks very much like Cinderella’s castle in Disneyworld…in fact, it was the inspiration for it. It’s nestled into the Bavarian hills, surrounded by mountains, valleys, a river, and a waterfall…very dramatic, yet packed with tourists. We had to climb for half an hour up hill to get to the castle, then wait two hours in line to get in. That was pretty frustrating, lemme tell you…no information…no one came out and said, “Hey guys, you will be waiting for a while, so you may want to consider whether or not you really wanna see this friggin castle”. But no, we stood, two hours, and every 1/2 hour the line would move maybe five feet. By the time I got into the castle, I was pretty jaded. It was an impressive, but short tour. King Ludwig was one crazy guy. Check out some pictures on the web.

Two hour train ride back to Munich…fun fun fun. I have been spending so much time on the train…the sight of climbing down from the train and seeing the platform, and walking towards the gate is becoming all too familiar. It’s like I keep re-living the same moment over and over.

Munich is a pretty nice town…most of it was destroyed in the war, so a lot of it looks new, but there are many old buildings that survived the war, giving the city a very authentic, Bavarian feel. The main center of the city is the Marianplatz, a giant church with an extremely ornate facade sporting gargoils and a spire with moving characters that dance several times a day.

We sat in the center of the plaza having coffee and enjoying the view of the church, listening to the many street musicians and watching the tourists pass. We wanted to have an authentic German dinner, so we picked what looked like a local restaurant, and sat down. They serve pretzels instead of bread! Most excellent…but I found out there was no chicken on the menu 🙁  So, I had a choice of pork Weiner Schnitzel, Fish, or Beef. I went with the beef even though I am not much of a slab eater….what I got was exactly that…a big, vein full, slab of beef with two heavy potato dumplings…yum yum…uhhh….yeah. That was the last of the German cuisine. Stuck with McDonald’s after that….no offense to you Germans out there…but…uhh…lighten up on the food.

The next day was perhaps one of the most profoundly saddening days of my life. It was the day we visited Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, and model for some additional 3000 camps throughout the Reich. Dachau is a town located 1/2 an hour outside Munich that is reachable by train. It was most eerie for me to take a train and get off at the stop with a sign reading “Dachau” and hearing the conductor announce “Dachau.” I was overcome with emotion the whole way there.

I have to say, recently, the holocaust and the tumultous history of my people have been in the forefront of my conciousness, so the very thought of what happened was enough to bring me to tears. So, I could not hold them back when I arrived at the Dachau station. The town looked relatively normal, but what can I say? It was Dachau. I don’t know how people can live there.

We took a bus to the Concentration Camp, which is now a memorial with a museum exhibiting pictures and artifacts from the camp. On the way to the camp from the station, we passed many neighborhoods and houses that were just outside the fence of the camp. I wonder how people can open their windows and look out at such a place as that…does it phase them at all?

We got off the bus. We began to walk towards the camp, and the first thing I saw was the guard towers and barbed wire. Tears. Couldn’t hold them back. I was outside the barbed wire that held in over 200,000 “prisoners”, and I was looking in as a free man. They didn’t know if they would live through the day…if they would be shot by a Nazi guard on a whim, or because they went too close to the fence, or some soldiers felt like amusing themselves.

We entered the camp, passing through an opening in the the barbed wire. The whole area was open and covered with stones. In the center there were two barracks that housed the inmates….they were reconstructions….the originals were torn down, because they were so wraught with infestations due to the overcrowding (the barracks were constructed to hold 200 prisoners, but were forced to hold nearly 1600 each).

I entered the barracks. I saw the beds that they were forced to sleep on…nothing more than wooden bunks in which four prisoners were crammed into the space of one twin bed. I took some pictures, in a state of shock. We walked around the perimeter of the barbed wire, passing some guard towers, to the memorial. There were several memorials there, some Christian, and some Jewish. We went to the Jewish one…very sobering. We put a stone on the memorial, a Jewish custom, shed a few tears for the victims and moved on.

Outside the immediate viscinity of the camp is the crematorium, a building housing the gas chambers and ovens. I entered on the left, stood in the gas chambers for a while, trying to imagine what it must have been like to be told you were about to take a shower, then enter a room, have the doors locked and sealed, and see the gas begin to come through the little holes in the ceiling. I imagined the panic that must have been felt, and the chaotic struggle for life that was fought and always lost to Xyklon B.

I passed out of the gas chambers and into the next room, which is where the ovens are contained. Once again, overcome, I stood and gazed at the ovens and wondered how many thousands of people were cremated here. I put my hand inside one of the ovens and felt a shiver as the ghosts of the place surrounded me from every direction. No words can really describe what it felt like to stand in the place where one of the worst crimes in history was committed.

We left the crematorium and made our way to the entrance of the camp where all inmates passed through upon arrival. The gate of the camp has a sign that says “Albeit Macht Frei” or “Work Makes One Free.” That’s what they saw as they entered the camp….and I think it was one of the biggest lies in all of history.

After many hours of roaming the camp and experiencing some of the most intensly emotional moments of my life, we left, taking the bus back to the station and the train to Munich. After such a sad afternoon, we decided we wanted to have a  positive Jewish experience and seek out a Synagogue and meet some local Jews who live in the country where millions of their people were murdered.

There are a few active synagogues, and we located one. It was a bland looking building with a very small sign. It appeared, when we arrived, that there was no one there, but I rang the bell and an Israeli man came to the door. It turns out they were about to hold evening services, and we were just in time to attend. He asked to see our passports and questioned us about our reasons for being there…standard Israeli security questions, and I am quite familiar with them…I said a few words in Hebrew, assuring him we were Jews and just wanted to meet some of our people in Germany.

The synagogue was orthodox so we sat separately. The service was chaotic, as most are, but it was very comforting to be there. It was soothing to hear the Hebrew prayers and feel the aura of the place…it was a statement that we are still alive…we go on…even after such a horrible thing as the holocaust, we are still here, and we persevere. I have never been so proud to be Jewish, to be alive, and to be free.

After the service, we spoke to an elderly man, via translator, who was a survivor of Aushwitz, the biggest extermination camp of them all. He was hesitant to talk about his experiences. I would have thought that survivors would want their stories to be known, but I realize now that what we hear about the holocaust, the horror stories and all the events of World War II, are all the story of his life. And if that were my life, I would want nothing more than to forget what happened and try my best to live normally. But to me, this man was a living memorial. After the war, he was a refugee, and no country would allow him in because he had typhoid. So, he was forced to remain in Germany. I couldn’t imagine being forced to live in the place where you were nearly the victim of genocide…every day, walking down the streets where Nazi soldiers once stormed about, dragging Jews from their homes. I am sure he could have given me a more interesting tour of the place.

Sorry if this has been a heavy chapter to read, but I had some heavy experiences, and they still weigh heavy on my heart. So, I am sharing them with you so you may know how it feels to see these things. May the world never forget what has happened here, and may the memory of those who perished live in our hearts for all time.

I am in Prague, though I have just arrived and seen nothing as of yet…so once I get some good stories, I will report back. Thanks for reading. Oh, by the way, I am sorry if I offended anyone in my previous chapter about my experiences at the Vatican. At times, I take it for granted that everyone shares my point of view on things, and I know that’s not necessarily true. I mean no offense.
Thanks,

Jared

Jared in Prague

Hello world, come on, get happy.

I have been in Prague for the last few days….what a city! I had no idea it was such a gem of a European capitol! I mean, compared to Sofia, Bulgaria, this place is a paradise. But by any standards, the architecture of this city is so profoundly beautiful that I was quite shocked. Around each and every turn, there are myriads of enormous buildings with ornate facades, towers and castles, beautiful bridges, statues, plazas, and squares full of markets, bustling tourists and locals, restaurants, and Bohemian culture (we are really in Bohemia by the way…). I don’t know what to take a picture of, because there are just so many things that are worthy of a picture.

We arrived by train in the early evening and went to the accomodations office in the train station to see about getting a place to stay. Stupid me, I had torn out all the information from my Let’s Go Europe book on the Czech Republic, because I didn’t plan to come over this far…but when I met Elyse in Bern, she said she wanted to come here, and I always wanted to anyway, but just thought it was too far of a trek. So, we had no information upon arrival.

The office set us up with an amazing Pension, but it was a bit of a hike from the center of town. We took a cab and got ripped off, but when we arrived, we found a very clean, new hotel with a beautiful room and a gracious host who helped carry our bags…which is always welcome…believe me, I am so sick of these bags, I am often tempted to toss them over a bridge (and I have crossed many). The hardest part about arriving in a new city is finding a place to stay, and until you do, you feel laden and disoriented, worried about what will happen…and it never gets easier. But once you get a place, it’s like you have a home base from which to explore, and you can store your bags and feel free to roam. So, once again, we set out in a new place to explore.

We bought a guide book that gave some information on the standard sights in Prague. There is just so much history here, and I can’t really get into it (mostly because I don’t know) but it was a major cultural capitol in Europe for a very long time, especially for Jewish life (OH NO, he’s gonna rant about the Jewish stuff again…oy…)….well, what can I say? It’s important to me.

We crossed the Charles Bridge, the main bridge crossing the river from the Old Town portion of Prague to the other side, called the Lesser Town. The view of the city from the bridge is spectacular….rows and rows of beautiful facades lining the river, with many spectacular examples of Eastern European architecture. The bridge is lined with many statues and carvings, and is itself an interesting site – old and made of cobble stone.

There was one interesting statue on the bridge of a crucifix with Hebrew writing surrounding it…not something I have ever seen before. There are many street musicians everywhere, as well as vendors selling the local trinkets. Another thing, there are TONS of chamber music concerts all over. We bought tickets for an early evening performance of a violin quartet, to take place in a medieval church….exciting.

We crossed the bridge and walked around the Lesser town a bit, where I dropped off some rolls of film to be developed (and thankfully they came out ok…pictures of Venice and Dachau. I was really worried that they would not come out, because my camera is a piece of crap and I have lost some pictures because of that). As we walked around, I got the sense that I was in a truly Medieval town with buildings that were so old, and original, that I felt like I was back in time. Of course, that is ruined by the zillions of tourists and the modern trappings, but it’s still incredible. This city rivals Rome in architectural beauty. We walked up the hill of the lesser town to the Prague Castle and had some stunning views and pizza….

The chamber orchestra concert was quite impressive. I had never really heard live music like this before…and even though I am a musician myself, I was quite blown away. Classical music is in a completely different league, and I can’t even begin to understand it. The violinists were so right on, and their performance of the classics was perfect, in a beautiful little medieval church in the center of old town Prague. We spent the evening admiring the views of the lit up old town from the bridge…it looks like Disney World, but it’s for real.

Next day, we were thrown out on our asses, because we could only get the room for two nights. Apparently, everything in Prague was booked…hard to believe. This is a very touristy town. I think there was some holiday in Germany that was drawing all kinds of excursionists. We had to drag our stuff all the way back to the train station and go through the same booking speel we went through when we first arrived…but by the time we found a place, checked in, and rested from the exhausting shlep, it was about 2:00pm and half the day was lost….but we set out again.

This time, we wanted to see the Jewish Quarter of Prague. This city was the center for Jewish life in Europe for a long time, and there is a rich Jewish history here and many old synagogues. We spent the afternoon wandering through them and around the old ghetto area and into the cemetery. That was interesting, the cemetery…fields of grave stones with Hebrew writing looking very ancient…

If anyone has ever heard of the Legend of the Golum, Prague is where that story began. Back in the middle ages, so the story goes, a Rabbi fashioned a human body out of clay and brought it to life using some secrets from the Kabala (sort of like a Jewish Frankenstein) and the Golum lived and served the Rabbi. But one day got peaved about something and started wrecking all kinds of things..so the Rabbi had to put the Golum out of its misery. Bottom line – There’s all kinds of Golum figurines being sold, and I felt it appropriate to buy one. Ahhh, a souvenier.

Tonight, we attend services in the most ancient synagogue of Prague, the “Old-New” synagogue….should be fascinating. Don’t worry anyone, I am not becoming religious, just tasting the history and culture as much as I can.

OK, that’s it…see ya next time…

Jared

Jared in Berlin

Guten Tag, can you please pass the Weinerschnitzel?

So, I spent another day in Prague after I last wrote. If I can encourage ya´ll to go to one place in Eastern Europe, I would say go to Prague! It is certainly one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and all the buildings are older than America…it´s all for real, right there for your gawking pleasure. Take the trip, you won’t regret it. No one paid me to say that.

So on to my current whereabouts…..I am in Berlin! Yet another city I never thought I would make it to on this trip, but you know how life has a funny way of taking you places you never would have expected. Elyse decided to extend her stay with me by one week, so we had some additional time to kill somewhere between Prague and Amsterdam, and we decided to go to Berlin! I mean, it is a pretty historically significant city and stuff, so I am glad that I made it up here.

We hopped on the train in Prague and six hours later we arrived back in Germany….and let me say a word or two about some of the trains here. The whole operation is RETARDED! We sat in first class, as our rail passes entitled us to do, and discovered that the smoking section and the non-smoking section are in the same freaking car! I mean, one row is smoking and the next row is non-smoking, and there are no dividers separating the two sections! So, the smoke floats right on over. How stupid. I asked the conductor who spoke a little English, “Uhh, why are the smoking and non-smoking sections in the same car?” He gave me some cock and bull story about how the air conditioning somehow keeps the smoke from circulating. I said, “That´s a bullshitta. Why then, do I see and smell smoke?” He then smiled blankly as if he did not understand, and moved along. And another thing…we had to move seats three times, because it turns out they were reserved by people who got on at different stops along the way….no one told us we were in reserved seats! Ugh!!!

OK, on to Berlin…I know you are all dying to hear about this place. We arrived in the early evening, before dark, and set out yet again on the arduous quest of finding a place to stay. This is something I am getting very sick of, and as we get more into the high season, it is becoming very difficult to just show up and find a place. So, we called each hotel listed in Let’s Go, but all of them were booked.

We were getting very worried that we would not be able to find a place…but finally we were referred to one hotel that had a room available, so we jumped on it. We had to take the train to the area, which turned out to be in the most extreme east section of Berlin, and as we got closer and closer, the area looked incrementally more sketchy….so when we arrived at the station, which looked like it was in post war Berlin, we said a fond “screw this” and got back on the train in the opposite direction, determined to find a place in west Berlin.

We headed for an area called Charlottenburg, which was supposed to have a lot of pensions. We called all the ones listed in the book in the area, but all were booked. What to do? Finally, we got lucky and found a decent place, but the woman who runs it is a nosey, blabbermouth who noticed my middle name was “Moshe” on my passport, obviously Jewish, and began asking a lot of probing questions about whether we eat pork or not, and then made a comment on how she is sure we will be wanting to find a CHEAP restaurant (cuz Jews are cheap, of course)….we ignored her as best we could and went to bed.

By the way, this is the second version of this update, because the first one was lost when the piece of CRAP computer in this overpriced Internet cafe CRASHED just as I attempted to send it. What a tragedy…really….I was crushed. Well, I will try to recreate as best I can.

OK, so a little bit about Berlin. As many of you may know, Berlin was once a divided city, East and West. After World War II, when the Soviets occupied East Germany, they divided Berlin and set up the infamous Berlin Wall. So, after the war, the city really became two separate cities, with two different centers. Now, after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the reunification of the city, there are efforts underway to create a more cohesive metropolis, but at the moment this place is rather chaotic.

First of all, the city is eight times the size of Paris, and nothing is in walking distance of anything else. You have to make use of the trains quite a bit. Second of all, I feel like the city is still under construction. There are cranes everywhere, littering the skyline, particularly in East Berlin. So as we walked around, I felt like I was walking around one giant construction site. The fact that there is so much building going on sort of takes away from any serenity factor that may have once existed, and provides a disorienting, chaotic feeling to the visitor.

As far as architectural beauty, there really isn’t that much happening here. I mean, there are several historical landmarks, and older buildings predating the war, but this city was, for the most part, destroyed by allied bombing. So 95% of the buildings here were constructed after the war, and while they are nice, they are not particularly interesting. The buildings in East Berlin are ugly-ass communist square block looking structures….I don’t know what they were thinking. I guess that’s what all the construction is about…to beautify and modernize the city in a unified way.

So, on our first full day in Berlin, we set out to explore as best we could. We decided to start in the West and make our way East. The western portion of the city is centered around a region called the Tiergarten, a giant, long park in the middle of the city, containing a zoo. I guess it´s the Central Park of Berlin, in a way.

We began at the western section and walked down the main boulevard cutting through the park. In the center is a structure called the Victory Tower, erected in the late 1800s as a memorial of Germany’s humiliating defeat of France. It´s about half the size of the Statue of Liberty (I have to draw some comparisons for you New Yorkers) and has a golden angelic figure perched on top. We decided to make the climb to its tower and check out the panoramic view of Berlin.

We made our way up the narrow spiral staircase, amidst a wave of BO infested tourists. It was quite hot and the inside of the tower was graffitied all the way with stupid things like, “I love the Back street Boys”. Coming out on top, we entered a crowded platform and could barely move around. From what I could see of the city, it wasn’t very impressive at all. There are some notable buildings, but I mostly saw the park and cranes all over the place. Like I said, it feels like it´s still under construction.

We left the tower and continued through the Tiergarten to the east end, where the Brandenburg Gate it located. This structure was symbol of division between the east and west for a very long time, because the Wall ran along its eastern edge. In 1989, when the wall came down, East and West Berliners danced together on top of this gate. Now, it´s surrounded by construction sites and cars passing through it without reservation.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood in front of this gate and in a speech to the crowd, addressed Gorbechev and said, “Mr. Gorbechev, open this gate”. Two years later, the people themselves tore the wall down and embraced each other. OK, so I read the sign at the gate and that´s how I know all this. I am giving you a little history here!  The Brandenburg Gate can be likened as the Arc De Triumph of Berlin, standing at the end of the long boulevard through the Tiergarten, where Nazi marchers once took place. It is made of Roman looking columns with a big statue on top….

Next we went to the Reichstag, very near the gate. The Reichstag is the former parliamentary building used by the early German governments and served at the seat of the Nazi Reich. In front of the Reichstag, there is a plaza, currently full of cranes and feverish building, but once served as the place for Nazi rallies. Eerie. The Reichstag is a mammoth building of Roman type with ornamental facades on all sides, home to statues of soldiers in their glory.  It´s an impressive building outright, but compared too much of what I have seen on this trip, it isn’t very notable. It’s the history of the building that is more impressive….to know that it is where Hitler ran the war from, and all his evil doings were conceived of there.

There was a surprising lack of stores and street vendors near these very important sites…and that was too bad for us, because we were very hungry but couldn’t find a place to eat! You would think they’d want to cash in on all the tourist flow at these places, but nooooo. Where is the McDonald’s when ya need one?

We walked around the old Jewish quarter after that and visited a rebuilt synagogue which was wrecked by the Nazis. We walked all around the same streets that notable Jews, such as Albert Einstein and Menachem Schneerson, once walked. There were 160,000 Jews in Berlin before the war, and only 7,000 afterward. Horrible to know that they were all sent to the camps.

The evening was spent in the Ku´damm, the main boulevard going through west Berlin with all kinds of shops and restaurants…sort of the Park Avenue of Berlin….another comparison for you New Yorkers. We spent some time calling Amsterdam and trying to reserve a hotel. Good thing we called ahead, because most things were already booked! We found a place, but for $80 a night! Guess you have to pay premium prices to pah-tay legally…..but me, I am just interested in the canals….ahem.

Thanks for reading….any questions, fire them my way. I’d like to hear from all of you, so please send me email! On to Amsterdam tomorrow!

Jared

Jared in Berlin and Amsterdam

Hi all….I have been in Berlin havin’ a blast. Actually…not quite true. I should say I have been in Berlin, held up in my hotel room, clinging to a bucket for three days. I got a little sick, shall we say….I guess I had something bad to eat somewhere along the line….I think it was this chicken sandwich, called a Doner Kebab…in Berlin. There are all kinds of stands that sell these things…they look pretty good (a huge spit of chicken meat, piled on top of more chicken meat, roasting upright in front of a flame…) and I have eaten them before….but I guess my number was up to get a bad apple….I’ll get to all of that.

But First!

Let me tell you about my second full day in Berlin. Lemme see, since I was in a delirious feverish state for most of that time, but I shall try to recall. I think at that point I was getting bummed out by Berlin…I wasn’t very into it to be honest. This has nothing to do with any of my crazy emotions….I just wasn’t very into the city itself, its layout, or the architecture…remember I said it felt like it was under construction….well, I think that fact, plus the fact that there really is no central area, made me feel like it was difficult to get a lay of the land and get to know that city systematically.  But I think in the end, I can point to most of the significant things on a map of Berlin. Let’s hope all my mental maps don’t merge, and I start confusing cities!

So, for some reason that I can’t recall, we got a pretty late start in the day and decided we wanted to see one thing specifically, a place called Check Point Charlie. This was a border check point located at a point along the infamous Berlin Wall, which, to East Germans, symbolized the daily plight of their occupation. Cars passing through this checkpoint were searched thoroughly for stowaways trying to escape East Berlin and defect to the west. It has become a tourist attraction, since the fall of the wall, so being the tourists we are, we had to go.

At the site of Check Point Charlie, there is a brick path laid into the road showing where the Berlin Wall once stood. I had to do a little East/West jumping back and forth, just to be cool and stuff….just how much cooler could one get? Once I had passed back and forth from east to west a bunch of times, I noticed that there were some police pulling cars over and searching them right near the checkpoint site. I was confused. Was the checkpoint still in operation? There is no wall. There is no war. What gives?

Turns out that day was May Day, not sure what it’s all about, but apparently there was going to be some demonstrations in the area between Neo Nazis and Anti-Fascists, and the cops were vigorously searching cars for bombs and weapons. I didn’t feel so bad about the searches after I found that out. Someone actually warned us not to go a few streets over, because we might get caught in the action…we took the hint and stayed away.

Later we learned there was violence in that area and clashes between these two groups….lucky us to avoid it. Anyway, it was interesting to see such an inspection by the police at Checkpoint Charlie, because that’s probably what it used to be like. Near the site is a museum about the checkpoint and about the Berlin Wall and what it was like to live in such a division. I perused around there for a bit, saw some pieces of the wall, and a lot of pictures of Berlin before it came down. It was interesting to see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate with the wall running in front of them, in contrast to its current, open state. The pieces of the wall are remarkable, because they have beautiful paintings on them. Most of the wall was painted by people on both sides, visions of peace and reunion, brotherhood, as well as hatred, slogans of nationalism, who is right, who is wrong.

After the museum, we walked to nearby Bebelplatz, the square where the infamous Nazi book burning rallies took place. It is a wide open plaza surrounded by ornate, pre-war Roman buildings and a domed church. In the center of the square is a plaque embedded into the ground with a quote by an author whose name escapes me, “Where they begin burning books, soon they will be burning people”. It was from the 1800s, this quote. An eerie prophecy.

We decided that ice cream was needed, as well as a place to chill for a bit, because I was feeling strangely tired. We walked around for a bit and found a place that sold gelato with tables outside….ordered up the goods and parked it for a whole hour. As we sat, I began to feel more tired and wondered why. I had a full night’s sleep…I had eaten…we hadn’t walked all that much….hmmmm. When we got up to go, I felt a wave of dizziness overcome me. Sat down……got up again and turned my head, felt it again. I knew something was up. The last time I felt that way, I ended up having Mono, sick in bed for a whole month.

I said to Elyse, “I think we had better head back to the hotel…I’m not feeling well”.  The sky was gray for a storm, and it began to rain heavily, as a fever descended on me which would set us back three whole days and keep us in Berlin far longer than we intended to be there. Oh well, guess it’s all part of the adventure, eh?

By the time we got back to the hotel, I was feeling miserable and needed to just sleep, so I crashed. I woke up in the middle of the night sweating with chills….I knew I was deep in a fever. Why does this have to happen to me now, I thought. I knew it would get worse before it got better. And it did….I will spare you the details, but allow your imagination to run wild concerning food poisoning and what affect it may have on your digestive system. I’ll leave it at that. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam the next day, but we ended up staying an additional three days. We had to switch hotels, but before we did, we had a run in with the owner again, the one I mentioned in my previous email about being nosey and a blabbermouth.

Her name is Rita Neilsen. What a character. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone quite like her. She was a raving anti-Semite, and that is not a statement made from paranoia. Once she found out we were Jewish, this became the basis on which she dealt with us for the duration of our stay at her hotel. Every comment or remark was underlined with Jewish references. When she found out I was sick, she suggested I leave the hotel and go to the hospital. When I said I preferred to stay she said, “Why, are you afraid of the German doctors? You think they are going to torture you? You Jews are all the same. You come here hating all the Germans, and you think the Germans are the ones who hate, but you are the one who is on a hate tour!” She constantly made references like this and our identity proceeded any reference she would make about us… “The Jews in room 9…..”  “I told those Jews they should go to the hospital….” “Why do you Jews have to be so stubborn?” I felt it very abrasive and difficult to deal with, but she was helpful at times any way, and recommended doctors and other hotels. If you come to Berlin, don’t stay at Hotel Funkturm in Charlottenburg, lest you encounter Rita and her ravings.

So aside from Rita Neilsen, my three extra days in Berlin consisted of sleeping, drinking, taking Tylenol, and various other “details” you may not wish to here and I will therefore omit. Elyse was wonderful and took care of my every need. Thankfully, she extended her trip and was able to be there. Regrettably, her extension was spent running around for me. Worked out well, because I would have been screwed if I were alone. So a big shout of THANKS goes to Elyse, what would I have done without you?

Friday we left for Amsterdam, where I now am.

Ahhhhh, Amsterdam. Let me just say this:  EVERYTHING YOU HAVE HEARD IS TRUE.  From its sordid drug/sex culture to its beautiful facades and canals, Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.

History and Dutch cultures fly in the face of legalized drugs and prostitution, and every hedonistic indulgence known to man. The center of the city is full of streets lined with a myriad of “coffee shops” and Hemp stores, as well as sex shops selling all kinds of crazy things. The coffee shops are really drug dealing establishments where you can purchase anything on the gambit of substance. People are sitting around smoking marijuana everywhere. There are just tons of people sitting around drinking and taking drugs. It’s pretty surreal.

There is an area called the Red Light District where the sex shops and legal prostitution reign even freer. If anyone has ever heard the song “Roxanne” by the Police, you’ll know why it reminds me of this city. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on a red light, walk the streets for money, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”  In the Red Light District, up and down the streets, there are windows with these neon red lights above them. In the windows, stand “call girls” on display for potential customers. The women are scantily clad and beckon to passersbys to come on in and have a little fun. In addition to the “displays”, there are also theatres where you can go view a live sex show. Just to stress here folks, I am merely reporting to you what I have seen. I would never partake in this horrid, filthy lifestyle, and I can only say to those who do, “Flee this evil place! Thou art the devil!” (Of course, hissing and spitting is involved.)

But besides all the naughty goings on here in Amsterdam, it is a very beautiful city. Its center is U-shaped, coming out of the central station. There are a lot of shops and restaurants, as well as historical points of interest. For instance, the Anne Frank House. This is perhaps one of the biggest attractions here for those interested in the city and not the drugs and sex. Anne Frank lived in Amsterdam, went into hiding with her family here, wrote her diary and was eventually deported from Amsterdam.

You can go see the warehouse run by her father, Otto Frank, where their family, along with some others, hid from the Nazis for two years. I read her diary as a child, so it was especially fascinating for me to see the “Secret Annex” where they hid. This was a hidden apartment in the back of the building, sealed off from the rest of it. You have to pass through an opening behind a bookcase to get in. It’s very small, and you can see Anne Frank’s room and even the decorations she put on her wall.

We passed through the house and made our way around the connecting museum. I am glad such a place exists where people can go and see the face of a young girl who suffered. Anne Frank has become the face of holocaust suffering, I think, and people need a face to connect to.

So, I am going to end it now. Elyse went home this morning, so I am back on my own. I think tomorrow I will head out to somewhere in France….any suggestions? I really don’t know where to go next, so if I get some good votes, I will go where you want me to 🙂

Feelin’ fine and ready to forge ahead,

Jared

Jared in Paris!

Bonjour! Comment ca va? Je suis en Paris maintenent, et c’est un ville tres jolie!

Oops….there I go speaking in French again…hate when that happens. Its been good practice for me to be here though. If you didn’t know, I speak a little French…took it for years in school, and it was actually a subject I did well in. I was able to practice it growing up during my trips to Israel, speaking with my grandmother (who didn’t speak English, only French and Hebrew, and I didn’t speak Hebrew…only English and French, so that was the common language). Those years produced a convoluted version of French for me, so my grammar is really poor, but I am able to say what I want to say. Unfortunately, I don’t always understand what French people say to me, so I feel like an “idiot!” when they reply and I have to say “Uhhhh…do you speak English?”

OK, I want to know who reads my updates. I mean, sometimes I don’t get a lot of responses, so I am curious if these have become cumbersome to some of you, or if you are still enjoying them. So, here is a request. If you read my updates, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Beaks.”  And if you do not read my updates and do not enjoy them, send me an email with the following subject: “Chickens Have Lips.” In this way, I will know for certain if this is all to no avail.

So anyway, I am in Paris. Last I wrote, I was still in Amsterdam, roaming its evil streets and corridors. I decided I was a little old to be hanging around thousands of college kids getting stoned out of their minds. Seemed a little immature to me, and I was uncomfortable there, so I decided to leave the next day. It was my second time in Amsterdam anyway…I had been there two years ago on a more brief tour of London, Paris, and Amsterdam, so it was familiar territory. I would definitely say to the potential traveler that Amsterdam is a place that should be seen at least once in your life…but don’t stay for very long, lest you be ensnared by its evil charm.

I had to take a regular train to Brussels, Belgium, in order to catch the Paris Express, which was one of those fancy bullet trains that go nearly 200 miles an hour…the countryside seemed to wiz by as we made our way to Paris. The French countryside is flat and green, but not remarkable compared to all that I have seen thus far. It was five hours from Amsterdam to Paris, and we arrived around 5:00pm. Lucky for me, I had made a reservation at a youth hostel in advance, because I really didn’t care to deal with the quest to find a place to stay, starting from scratch upon arrival in Paris. But I still had to locate the hostel I reserved, so it was a bit of a quest anyway.

The train arrived at the Gare Du Nord train station, one of many stations here in Paris, receiving the trains from the North (Nord). It looked the same as it did last time, and I felt a sense of familiarity on arrival, so it wasn’t the usual “holy shit, where the hell am I?” feeling, because I had been here before and I knew what to expect from the place. I think the fact that I have been here before may be contributing to a lack of desire to really explore the city…don’t know why. Perhaps I am just tired of traveling.

Anyway, I found the hostel after walking about a mile, toting my bag behind me, par usual. When I arrived, I found out I had to carry my bags up four grande flights of stairs…that about wiped me out for the night, so I spent some time resting up for a bit. I met my roommate, a guy from California who had been traveling for a whole year. He was even more jaded than me, so we had stuff to talk about. We went out to dinner in the Latin Quarter section, to a French restaurant where we dined on salad with warm goat cheese. It was pretty good, but drenched in oil, thus killing any sense of being healthy. After dinner, we played chess in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral and called it a night.

So, I shall tell you a wee bit about Paris. This is a strikingly beautiful city. Its beauty rivals Rome in every way. The architecture is all stone and very ornate. There are magnificent buildings around every corner, as well as immense plazas sporting buildings fit for an empire – Daunting Roman architecture, ornate carvings, and statues. Even the regular buildings are lined with black iron railings that create a uniform sense of design.

The city has a very old feel. It is divided into two banks, the left and the right, split down the middle by the river Seine. The right bank is to the north and the left is to the south. In the middle of the river Seine, there is an island called Isle De La Cite. This is the most ancient portion of Paris and contains the Notre Dame Cathedral and other significant Parisian buildings.

To the south of Notre Dame, on the left bank, is the Latin Quarter, a bohemian section full of bars and restaurants, as well as universities and bookstores. To the far west of the left bank is the Eiffel Tower. No, it is not visible from every window in Paris. In fact, it’s hard to see from most of Paris, because it’s located on the edge.

To the north of the Isle De La Cite is the right bank containing the Royal Palace, its beautiful courtyards, and the Louvre, the world famous museum housing the Mona Lisa. Of course, there is much more to the city, tons of neighborhoods and little places to discover everywhere. The city is divided into 18 sections (I think) that run clockwise from the Louvre. My youth hostel is located in the 4th section and is near to the river Seine and some of the most beautiful buildings in Paris. I am not going to talk about seeing the following things:  The Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, or Jim Morrison’s Grave. These are things I saw last time I was here, and while they are exciting in their own right, they are not a part of my current quest for raison d’etre. Of course, if anyone is really curious, I can add a paragraph in my next book.

One thing I missed last time I was here was Mont Martre. This is a high ground in the right bank of Paris to the far north, sporting a famous cathedral called Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart.)  So, I think the French exclamation “Sacre Coeur!” is a reference to this place. Anyway, it’s a beautiful building with domes that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and around it is a medieval area containing restaurants and artist colonies.  So, I trekked up yonder…took the metro.

The metro here is quite efficient and extensive. I made the climb up many flights of stairs and stood before the cathedral. Beautiful. OK let me be honest here. I am pretty Cathedral’d out. I have seen soooooo many churches, medieval cathedrals of tremendous importance, that things like this don’t really provoke much in me anymore. Maybe this is sad, or maybe it’s just overkill.

There were tons of tourists around the area, and many sketch artists looking to draw my picture. There were also many street musicians and organ grinders. I have seen many organ grinders lately….I walked around the area and perused its streets. I came upon a street drummer who was walking around with a Djumbe drum slung around his neck, and he was entertaining people sitting in the restaurants. I watched him for a while and he made faces at me. He saw that I had my guitar with me….I was looking to do a little playing myself, but the area was saturated with musicians, and I didn’t want to step on anyone’s territory. I went back towards the cathedral and sat on the stairs looking out over the city. There was a guitar player there, a man with a thick Indian accent who sang a lot of classic songs in his accent…but he attracted a crowd so I sat near him to watch. He saw I had a guitar, and he invited me to play with him for a bit…we did a few tunes for the crowd, but then I got the feeling that he wanted me to leave. As soon as I packed it up, he started asking for money. Guess he didn’t want me to get a cut. Oh well, let him have it.

I left Mont Martre and began to walk back down towards the Seine, which was quite a far hike, but I felt up to it and wanted to see as much as I could. Paris starts to look the same after a while, with it’s uniform architecture all being of a similar style. After an hour of walking, I began to regret that I had set out on such a far walk. I was weary by the time I arrived on the bank of the Seine…I needed a nap.

I headed into the Royal Palace courtyard. The Royal Palace, containing the Louvre and its glass pyramid, also contains a lovely stretch of gardens and fountains that attract the lazy, such as myself. I found a chair (one of those chairs that let you recline) and I kicked it by a fountain for a few hours, wrapped my guitar case strap around my leg (so no one could steal it if I fell asleep) and snoozed the afternoon away. I awoke to some children screaming right next to me, maybe two hours later. The sun had gone down somewhat and I felt better from my rest, so I walked back to the hostel.

I was hungry and decided it was time for some hardcore French cuisine. I headed to the Latin Quarter where all the serious restaurants can be found, and searched for the one that gave me the best French aura.

I found a quaint place on one of the side streets with a roaring fire and wooded interior. I sat down and ordered up some cheese Fondue. This is typical French food at its best. They serve a boiling pot of cheese, all gooey and artery clogging, and a huge basket of bread cut up into small pieces. You take the bread and spear it with a long fork, dip it into the cheese, and eat. Pretty decadent, but had to be done. I sat there for a while reading Lord of The Rings and eating my Fondue. By the way, I am really enjoying this book…it’s fitting to read a classic fantasy travel epic while on this journey.

After dinner I headed over to the Notre Dame Cathedral, because I wanted to do a little playing. I found a spot, opened my case and let it rip. The crowd didn’t come rushing over for some reason…but I began to attract a group of Algerians who I ended up hanging out with and speaking to for the evening. Algerians have it rough in their country, and most of them would love to get out (because there is a nasty civil war and people get killed all the time), but visas are not widely available. The lucky ones get to come to France and wait for citizenship. Once they get it, they try to make it to the U.S. …. it’s the dream of so many to come to the USA. We are lucky to have the freedoms we have.

End of day.

Middle of the night, awoken by a snoring roommate who I tapped and politely asked to roll over. He replied, “Fuck you”.

Next day, I decided to go to the Chateaux De Versailles. I hope I am spelling this right. Versailles was the home to many French kings, including most of the Louis series…it was about an hour train ride to the Chateaux. This will be brief…..

Versailles is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have seen since the Vatican. It is a huge palace surrounded by extensive gardens and fountains, full of flowers and statues. The building itself is so beautifully adorned, with carvings and golden gates. It has an immense courtyard in front.

I stood in that area and admired the building from the outside. What it must take to build such structures, I could never know. But to be sure, the kings of old commissioned some pretty serious projects. I took a tour of the inside around the kings apartments and halls. It was a lot like the Vatican, each room hand painted with scenes from the bible, or political depictions, portraits of kings and queens, men of nobility. The adornments were sensory overload, and I am not really able to describe them. Suffice to say, I have had my senses overloaded so much, I am finding it hard to sense anything anymore….

So, that takes me up to the present. As you may have guessed from some of my comments, I am feeling a bit weary and de-sensitized. I suppose this is because of the shear amount of things that I have done and seen, but it’s unfortunate that I am feeling this way with nearly a whole month ahead of me. Well, perhaps when I leave Paris and this familiar sense, I will have a new feeling of exploration and discovery. At least I have been writing some songs…

Remember, respond to my poll.

Jared

Jared in the South of France

Greetings world, how art thou?

So, it’s been a few days since I have last written. Just to say, I am thankful to know that so many Chickens have Beaks. If you don’t get that…then maybe you should read my last update!

I am currently in the south of France in a lovely little area called Nice (pronounced Neece).  It’s the French Riviera….sounds glamorous and stuff, eh? Well, it is. It’s pretty beautiful. I left Paris three days ago now…I think….I enjoyed Paris a lot, but I needed a change to something I haven’t seen ever before. I don’t know if Nice was the change I needed, but it brings me closer to Spain anyway, and that I am sure will be another world.

Nice is a lovely town on the beach with an old part and a new part. The new part is a strip along the water full of hotels and restaurants. The beaches are all rocky though…hmmm…..and check it out! All  beaches are topless! Well….not that I would look or anything…

There are some casinos and ritzy hotels along the water that I could not possibly afford, so I stayed for the first two nights in the old city in the most dumpy hotel I have ever been to in my life. The room was just nasty…the walls were all dirty and stained with God knows what….and it just gave me the creeps…I had booked two nights there and the morning I was supposed to change to my next hotel, I got the hell out so fast…I didn’t even check out…just threw my keys on the desk and left. My new hotel is much nicer….no stains…the decor is right out of the Brady Bunch, but at least I don’t feel gross there.

The Old City of Nice reminds me a bit of the windy streets of Venice, though there is not nearly as much to see. You have your standard array of churches and significant historical sites….I mostly skip them now, because I have had my fill. But there are a lot of good restaurants! OH YEAH. When I was doing my laundry on my first day here, I met this guy who is also a musician, and he invited me to his gig at some pub that night….I went down to check it out and ended up having a really good time….met a lot of cool people to hang out with.

Yesterday I went to Cannes, a nearby town where a really high profile film festival is going on right now. So, I walked around there watching the frenzies of people who were looking to see movies stars. There were crowds of people gathered outside this one hotel, and every few minutes people would start screaming like mad…I guess someone famous was coming out….but, what insanity! This must be like Hollywood.

Today, I am going to Monaco and Monte Carlo…if you have never heard of it, this is a small country that is attached to France… I think it’s just a town, really, but they are their own country!  Supposedly it’s very rich and it’s the playground of all kinds of notables…we shall see.

Speaking of Organ Grinders in my last email, the other day I saw one with a real Monkey. The monkey was sitting on top of the organ, dressed like a little boy…he looked pissed off. The grinder guy was dragging the organ around this restaurant trying to make some money. The monkey just sat there and did nothing. Aren’t they supposed to walk around with a little cup? Anyway, I kept my distance, because I was traumatized as a kid when I saw a monkey and an organ grinder and I tried to give the monkey some money, but it bit me….but this time, I stood back an watched, because I hadn’t seen a monkey up close in years. Anyway, all of a sudden the monkey gets up and starts flinging its hands at a group of people standing right near me…needless to say they were a bit frightened and plowed backward into me….luckily I was strong enough to break the fall….ouch.

Well, I think this will be a short one, since I know many of you just skim them anyway!  I am havin’ a good time still…no worries…I am off to Monaco today. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom…..

Jared

Jared in Madrid (Yep, Spain!)

Buenos Dias!

I am currently in Madrid, Spain. You may ask yourself, “How the hell does he do it?  I mean, he´s been going crazy for nearly three months!”  Well, yeah, you are right. I am crazy.  But, I have three  weeks before I have to return to the states, and I wanna put some more mileage in over here.

I am gonna do Madrid, then maybe Toledo. After that, I plan to plow on into Portugal and hit Lisbon, the capitol. Then, back into Spain to Seville, and then down to the rock of Gibraltar. I will cross the straights of Gibraltar and roam around Morocco for a day or two. And then, back to Spain again, and up to Barcelona, if not something else first. We shall see if all this happens.

Last I left you, Batman was about to go check out Monte Carlo…that´s in Monaco…though, I don’t really know what the difference is. Monaco is an independent sovereignty, but it is in France and you don’t need a passport or visa to get there…it’s basically just a town. I guess Monte Carlo is the capitol?  Whatever. Anyway, I went there on Sunday. Everything was closed, and I found it to be quite boring. The buildings were very nice…everything looked very rich. There were a lot of fancy cars and elderly tourists walking around. The whole place is centered on a casino…I think that’s where the rich and famous spend all their cash. Otherwise, there’s some ritzy hotels, some nice beaches, and a beautiful coast line.

The south of France is very nice and relaxing…a good place to come and get away from life in NY, or wherever you may live. I met a lot of cool people in Nice and spent my time hanging out with them. Meeting people makes all the difference when you are traveling….it is the line between loneliness and companionship. And the latter is a necessity when you are alone on a journey like this one.

So, after I had my fill of Nice, I decided to head for Spain. Little did I know, it was a 22- hour train ride to Madrid! What was I thinking? That was by far the longest ride yet….I had to take a train to Montpellier, France, and then change to Barcelona. In Barcelona I hopped a night train to Madrid. Lucky me, there were no Couchettes left (that’s a bed compartment) so I got to pile in with five fat, smelly Spaniards who snored. It was a loooooong ride.

I am here. I arrived at 7:00am and checked into a hotel. I decided I have had enough of youth hostels and sharing rooms with noisy people…time for a little privacy and luxury, as long as it is under $30 a night.

I plan to eat a lot of chicken and rice…some serious tortillas, tapas, and whatever else I can get my hands on. Tomorrow, I will go running with the Bulls, and the day after I shall join Francisco’s school for the Fledgling Conquistador. Next week, I will go conquer south America for King Ferdinand!

Or maybe, I’ll hit a few bars and get happy….all depends on how I feel. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Spain’s colors are tan and sandy looking….allow me to go romp and play in the dunes.

Later,

Jared

Jared in Spain

Torro Torro!  Passa da burrito…

Well, Madrid was eh. Sorry anyone out there who loved it…I don´t know, it just looked to me like so many other places in Europe that I have been to…but that´s been happening a lot to me lately. What can I say? Maybe it´s just overkill. But Madrid didn´t feel “Spanish” enough to me. Not what I expected. Pretty cosmopolitan…lots of restaurants and sex shops…and movie theaters.

I have been looking everywhere for some good chicken and rice, but all they have here is Paella…which is a mixture of seafood, and all kinds of other nameless meats, and rice. Since I don´t really dig seafood, I have been at a loss for good food. One place I went to, I asked “Esta Paello solo con pollo?” “Do you have paella with only chicken?” And he said “Si!”  And I sat down. He brought me a plate of rice and two chicken bones. As I picked through it, I saw remnants of shrimp and pieces of seafood. Clearly he had gone through his big pot of paella and thought he picked out the stuff I didn’t like. I was pissed.

Then, my hotel was a joke. Promptly at 9:00am, they began construction inside my hallway. Pounding and hammering all morning. I kept screaming out the window “STOP!!!” (with a few colorful exclamatory words), but no go. That was the final straw for me to leave Madrid. I went and checked out, haggled with the hotel guy who wanted to charge me more than we agreed on…but ended up paying what I wanted to pay. I headed for the train station, had a few hours to kill before the next train to Toledo. No, not Ohio. Toledo is a medieval town about an hour and a half outside Madrid.

One thing I have to complain about (I mean ANOTHER thing…) is that I simply cannot get away from cigarette smoke over here. EVERYONE SMOKES! I can’t believe it. No matter where I go, I find it hard to escape. And they do not have the laws we have about smoking in public places, so basically it’s free reign everywhere. Even on the train, which was supposed to be a non-smoking car, people lit up anyway. And the streets are littered with cigarette butts. Sorry smokers, but I don’t understand your addiction. It’s bad for everyone involved. You, because you smoke and I can’t begin to list the health hazards. Me, because I have to breath the second hand smoke. Everyone, because our world is littered with cigarette butts. Oy.

Anyway, I made it to Toledo, which is actually very impressive. It´s a medieval city inside its original walls. The streets are narrow and very old looking. Everywhere you turn there are medieval buildings, cathedrals, and churches. This is what I was looking for. It feels very Spanish to me. Everything is made from stone, so the whole city looks like a city of stone. There are a few synagogues left standing from before the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, so I paid them a visit. Being of Spanish-Jewish decent, I found those particularly interesting. Also, I ate some good chicken.

Hasta manyana.

Jared

Jared in Spain – Part Deux

Hi all, just a quick update here. Just wanna say, I am sorry that my last note was full of negativity. I had a bad day and a series of bad experiences that led me to write what I wrote.

Anyway, Toledo was absolutely amazing. I felt like I was in ancient Spain. The city is so full of medieval looking buildings, that it was easy to imagine what life must have been like back in those times.

Toledo is famous for its metal making craft, and they produce all kinds of knives and swords there. So, I bought a sword. It´s a huge one…picture Conan the Barbarian here…and it´s a replica of the sword of Solomon…I saw it and knew right away that I had to have it. I know it will become a family heirloom someday, and I am very glad I finally bought a serious souvenir on this trip…the only other things I bought for myself were the chessboard in Turkey, and the Golem in Prague. So now I have a real biggie. I will have to put it on display somewhere in NY, so ya´ll can come gawk at it when I return.

I met some people from NY that I ended up hangin out with in Toledo for a few days. It was very spooky at night. Last night I walked outside the city walls and looked at the stars. There was a big medieval castle on the hill in the direction I was looking, and right above it was an eerie full moon. There were smoky clouds passing in front of the moon, so it felt like a scene out of Transylvania! Good moments. Ahhh….

Well, I said this would be short, but what else can I write about? I am back in Madrid right now, waiting for my night train to Lisbon Portugal. I am going to sleep in a Couchette for the first time…I made sure to reserve it well in advance so I know I get a place. I hear the beaches in Lisbon are really nice, so I might spend a few days just chillin there. A lot of people have been advising me to slow down and take some time off from my trip. I think that may be a good idea, so we´ll see about doing that. What do y´all think? Am I doing too much? Do you think I have set out on too long of a journey? I don´t know…when will I ever have the chance to do anything like this again? I figured I would hit as much as I can in the time I had, taste each country, get a feel for Europe…you know. But I guess the danger in that is getting burned out and losing the sense of wonder for the places you go. I suppose I am experiencing that a bit…I am sorry it has come upon me….

Lord of the Rings is an amazing book by the way…I finished the first part and then searched all over the south of France for an English copy of the rest of it..I found it in an obscure bookshop and paid $30 for it…but totally worth it. I suggest to anyone who hasn’t read this book to READ IT.  It is the most incredible fantasy adventure story I have ever had the pleasure to devour….

Well, guess that’s about all for now….

Jared

Jared in Portugal

Ahhh, there is still life in my journey, and it’s been found in Portugal!

I have been here for the last few days, and I feel very renewed by this place. I took the night train from Madrid a few days ago. I slept for the first time in a couchette…which was quite interesting. The compartment only had four people as opposed to six, which is what I usually see. I had a top bunk, which felt quite like sleeping in a coffin. When we turned the lights off, it was pitch black…I mean, not even a dot of light coming in, and the ceiling was two feet above me….I felt very enclosed and freaked out. I think I fell asleep after a few hours of restlessness…..and I had a really weird dream, which I can’t recall. But I do recall the scary feeling of waking up from the dream in a pitch black, coffin like environment on a rumbling train. Talk about disorientation…took a minute to remember where I was. There were times when the train shook so much I felt like I would be thrown from my bunk!

I arrived in Lisbon early morning and met a bunch of people in the train station, including one of the guys in my couchette car. We all found a hostel together and ended up hanging out for the next few days in a big group, which is something I have missed for a while…so it was a welcome experience. It’s nice to have other people taking charge, and I can relax a little and just go with the flow.

We walked all around Lisbon. This is a very beautiful city, and parts of it are so old and untouched, it’s like walking back in time. Some of it is quite run down, but the people are very friendly and full of culture. Our hostel was right in the middle of the central square, and I had a balcony in my room. There was an ancient castle sitting on a hill above the city, which we decided to climb up to and check out. What a climb, but it gave us a great view of the city and the bay! There is a giant statue of Jesus here….it stands over the bay and is visible from all over the city. This is a very religious country.

The next day, we all took a trip to a town called Sintra, about an hour outside of Lisbon. It’s a small village set in the side of a mountain that sports a medieval Moorish fortress, as well as an incredible castle built more recently. We decided we wanted to climb the mountain. I don’t know if we really knew what that would entail. It was a very windy road that went for miles uphill, yet we walked it all the way to the top. We carried up food for lunch with us, and at the top we perched ourselves on the walls of the castle, overlooking the entire coast of the region, and had a picnic lunch in the presence of an amazing view.  Quite spiritual.

That evening we returned to Lisbon. One thing I’d like to mention is that I have seen many people with extreme deformities here, for instance people with no arms, but hands that stick out of their shoulders, or people with immense protrusions from their backs. It is very sad to see such things. But, yesterday I saw a man with Elephantitis. I don’t know if you have seen the movie “The Elephant Man”, but this man looked very much like that. He was sitting and begging, and when I saw him, I did a double take and had to look away, because never in my life have I laid eyes on something so hard to look at. If you think you have problems, you really don’t.

Anyway, the next day some of the group split, and the rest of us took a train down to the southwest coast of Portugal to a town called Lagos. This place is like the Greek Islands all over again. BEAUTIFUL BEACHES. The water is so clean and clear…you can see the bottom. Teaming with fish. The town is quaint and old, with all kinds of shops and restaurants. Very cheap too! I may stay here for a few days and just relax. Lawd knows I have been going strong for a long time.

My trip is almost over! Only two weeks to go! Can you believe it? I bet you feel as though I have been writing these updates forever. Yeah, me too. It will be weird to be back in NYC! Well, not quite yet, because I will be going to summer camp. But I suppose I will be back in the city by the fall. What the hell am I gonna do? I have no clue…

Any suggestions?

Write to me folks….it’s always nice.

Jared

Jared Still in Portugal

Beautiful, clear blue water, coral reefs, sandy beaches, jagged cliffs, sunny days and starry nights, quaint streets, cheap hotels, novelty shops, sun burn, freshly squeezed orange juice, raging night life, cheap drinks, and cool people. That about sums up my last few days.

Still in Lagos, Portugal. Take a look on a map, to the southwest most corner of the Europe…that’s where I am…right on the corner of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. I am finally getting the R & R I needed to help me get over the burnout. It’s so relaxing here, just to chill on the beach, read my book, and play my guitar (I have been writing songs). I have met so many people here and spent a lot of time just kickin it with them. Not much to do, but hang out, and that is fine by me. Not in a rush to see any sights…no itinerary…no trains to catch, no worries. Just chillllllin.

My back hurts a bit from layin in the sun for too long….also I have major tan lines on my face from wearing sun glasses while on the beach…so I have lighter circles under my eyes right now, while the rest of my face is darker, except for the white lines where the glasses hang over my ears….eh, so what. I am havin a good time.

I was on the beach yesterday with a few of the people I came here from Lisbon with. Two of them decided to go dive off a cliff. I said, “You are crazy!” to them. I saw them climb up the cliff and stand at the edge. The first guy dived in and was fine. The second guy was clearly scared to do it….and as he jumped, I think he freaked out in the fall, and rolled backward, hitting the water with his back and neck. Needless to say, he was hurt pretty badly…now he is laid up in bed at the youth hostel, not really able to move.

I checked into a hotel, because I wanted a little privacy. It’s only about $20 a night for a decent room with a balcony. Portugal is way cheap, if you ever want to take an inexpensive vacation. Good weather and beaches…some serious views, and many castles too.

I think I will probably head to Seville, Spain, tomorrow…I decided to skip Morocco. I don’t have enough time to really appreciate the place. Plus, time in general is running out on my trip. Maybe I will hit Seville, then Grenada, as well as Gibraltar, all before heading up to Barcelona.

I have been informed that my sword arrived safely in the USA. Glad to know that! I am psyched to have a sword…..makes me feel all medieval and stuff.

As my trip has been winding down, I have been thinking about how many places I have been: 41 cities! Last I counted, that is….and 13 countries! (including Monaco). Thirteen countries and 41 cities…man, it’s been a long trip….but I am coming home soon….and looking forward to camp.

I still want to hear from everyone, so please write to me!

Jared

I am the Barber of Seville

Hola! Back in Spain, I am.

It was a hard decision to make, whether or not to leave Lagos. It was just so nice there, so relaxing and cheap…I was tempted to just stay there for the rest of my trip and make one big trek up to Barcelona to fly home! But, I said to myself, “Self, there is only a week and a half left of your journey, and there are still a few things left to do. So self, put your weariness aside and get off your ass for this last leg.”  “But..but…it’s sunny here and they have cheap beer!”  “Self, don’t give me that crap. This trip is not about beer. It’s about experience! Now, load up and hop the bus to Seville. You won’t regret it. Plus they have chicken there.”

So, I did it for the chicken.

There was no direct train from Lagos to Seville…actually the trains in this region are rather poorly designed. There are gaps in the lines that make one go waaaay out of the way to cover a short distance as the crow flies. So, I took the bus. It was about $15 and five hours, direct from Lagos to Seville, but well worth not having to go all the way back to Madrid just to come back down south. The bus ride was quite fun actually, because, once again, I met a big group of people, and we all sort of banded together to “do” Seville. We joked and laughed all the way there. It was joyous.

As soon as I arrived in Seville, I began to regret leaving Lagos. I have been to so many big cities, and Lagos was small townish…and I didn’t feel like I had the energy to explore yet another big city. But, I was there…so, what choice did I have? Get on a bus back to Lagos? Actually, the idea tempted me.

I joined up with a guy from Boulder, CO, and we went looking for a pension to stay in. ALL of them were full….we finally found one with one room available, but way expensive. No choice in the matter…we took it.

By the time we got out and hit the town, it was dark. But Seville is very beautiful at night. It’s a city full of Moorish architecture, medieval walls, and cathedrals, as well as colorful Spanish looking streets lined with restaurants and houses. Boulder Man and I set out for some Paella and Sangria. Ohhhhh, Sangria. The drink of the gods. I have arrived at the TRUTH.

We ordered up a pitcher of the good stuff. It came full of fruit and wine mixed with brandy, I think. Whatever it was, it did the job…..halfway through the pitcher, I was lit like a campfire. Finally, I got some real chicken and rice too…not mixed with bits of shrimp…not some scam by the restaurant…it was real, and goood. I also tried Gazpacho…think I spelled that wrong, but it’s basically cold tomato soup…good stuff. Between all that and a dish of olives, I was set.

After dinner we walked around town and ran into the rest of our clan…that began a very long evening of bar hopping and merry making that didn’t stop till about 5:00am…..the nightlife here is pretty raging.

There are some serious landmarks here worth seeing. One is a complex called the Alcazar…this was the headquarters for the Moorish empire. What an amazing fortress it is. The walls remind me of Jerusalem. Inside are networks of ornate hallways with Arabic writing all over the walls….and the back gives way to the most lush gardens I have ever seen, full of trees and fountains, rows of shrubberies, as well as several Knights who run around and say “NEEK!”

Impressive.

The other biggie is the cathedral. Apparently it’s the biggest gothic structure of its kind…pretty cool. It also happens to be the burial place of Christopher Columbus…so, I came within a few feet of the guy we owe our country to, I suppose….I feel holy and stuff now.

I think tonight will be another raging party…Boulder Man can drink a fish under the table…so it’ll be interesting.

Tomorrow, I leave for Grenada.

By the way, what is the average velocity of an unladen swallow?

Jared

Jared in Grenada

Still truckin round southern Spain….still hazy after all these beers. The big brew over here is called Cruzcampo….and what shall I say of it?  Not much…I have had better Cerveza elsewhere….but at least they import Corona! I’m stickin to the Sangria.

Well, now I am in a town called Grenada. Arrived yesterday. Seville was really nice, and I could have easily stayed another day there, but I know time is running out for me…and since I have a little more energy after my stint in Lagos, I am ready to rock for another week.

Ahhh, Grenada. So many people told me to come here, and with good reason. This town was where the Moorish empire had its seat, in a lofty fortress called the Alhambra. It sits atop a mountain, at the foot of which sprawls the ancient streets of Grenada. I’ll get to that.

When I arrived yesterday, I was immediately struck with how much this place feels like the Middle East. There is a huge Moroccan influence here….falafel restaurants, tea houses, incense filling the air, Arabic looking people walking around, signs in Arabic, and humus and pita available readily. I felt very much at home. I love the middle eastern feeling…it’s very familiar to me, after so many trips to Israel. I am actually feeling inspired to go to Morocco now…I know, I said I wouldn’t do it, but maybe I will change my mind….we’ll see, cuz tomorrow I am heading down to Gibraltar, and it would be from there that I catch the ferry to Tangiers. Maybe…

Grenada has a lot of back streets that resemble some of the market places I saw in Turkey and Jerusalem…lots of vendors, all selling the same stuff….and I have come upon a new host of chess boards…I guess that is a very middle eastern thing too…chessboards. Well, they got ’em here.

This city is also the final resting place of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella…the fanatics responsible for the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Moors and Jews in 1492. Their grave is right next to the very large and impressive Cathedral here (nicer than many I have seen, yet I am unable to describe it now). The crypt is in their private chapel, and you have to descend into a lower chamber where you can see their lead caskets. I looked for a moment at them, and promptly wished a pox upon their souls.

Coming out of the crypt, I was accosted from all directions by gypsy women who kept trying to hand me a leaf….they are very aggressive about getting you to take the leaf. And once you do, they won’t leave you alone till you pay up. I kept refusing the leaves…and I had to plow my way through a horde of them to make it out of the chapel square. Quite annoying…at every turn, I kept having to angrily say, “NO!”

The nightlife is cool here. Free tapas at every bar when you order a drink…that was good news for me and the people I met up with. Can’t go wrong with free tapas….(little plates of food…)

Next day, today actually, I climbed the mountain up to the Alhambra. That was a hike and wore me out before the day even began! But the hike was worth it. I bought my ticket and went inside.

The fortress is pretty big and it’s enclosed by walls all around. There are several palaces to see, and some of the most beautiful and elaborate gardens even planted. Those are what impressed me the most. I walked around for a few hours amongst the flowers, fountains, and sculpted hedges. Of course, I sneezed a lot…but I endured.

Washington Irving, famed author of…uhhh….stuff…..spent some time here and wrote about it extensively. He was pretty enchanted with the place, so much so that the audio guide was supposed to be his voice (you know audio guides…those things you hold up to your ear as you walk around). The highlight of the Alhambra is the Palace of the Nazarenes…..I think that was the name…sorry, I forget these things….but it was an extremely ornate palace where all the walls were hand carved with Arabic poetry. The rooms were majestic, and the courtyards heavenly. It was built to represent the Islamic concepts of paradise. They did a good job.

So, I just had a falafel. Gonna need to go get some gum now….so, until next time, Salaaaaam.

Jared

Gettin’ a Piece of the Rock

Still goin strong down here! I left Grenada yesterday and made way for a small port town called Algeciras, it’s right on the tip of Spain and provides easy access to the Rock Of Gibraltar, as well as ferries to Tangiers. Otherwise, it’s a dump.

The train ride down here gave me some serious countryside viewage. Spain is really beautiful! Vast mountains and vallies, with sandy colors mixed with green, and bushes and trees scattered about. Quite majestic actually.

BUT! When I got off the train in Algeciras, I soon found it to be the dingy crap hole it was rumored to be. Near the stations, there were a bunch of hostels, so I started looking around for a place to stay. My intentions were to use Algeciras as a base to explore Gibraltar and Morocco. All the rooms I found tended to smell pretty bad, so I went with the cheapest, least smelly room I could find. Something I didn’t think about was the noise factor though…my room had a balcony that opened right on a main road, and I was only one floor up, so I could hear all the noise of the street as though my bed were right on the road.

You may ask yourself, “Why the hell didn’t he just close the window then?” Because it’s bloody hot! I would have sweat myself to death, so it was a choice between heat stroke and noise. I went with the noise, and three showers to keep cool. But let me just tell you, I hate scooters with a passion. They make this extremely loud buzzing noise, at a frequency that is so abrasive, it should be outlawed. But they are all over the place here! So, all night I heard “bzzzzzoooooooom!”  In the morning I bolted from Algeciras and decided to try my fate at staying in Gibraltar itself.

Hopped on the bus. It was about an hour to The Rock. The bus drops you off at a town called La Linea, literally meaning The Line. I think the Spanish are a little pissed off about the Gibraltar situation. You see, the rock of Gibraltar is a British colony, basically. It’s in Spanish territory, but controlled by England. The Spanish really don’t like that, even though it’s been that was for hundreds of years.

From La Linea, you have to pass Spanish customs and wave your passport to get out.  When you enter Gibraltar, you are immediately hit with anglophelia. It’s like walking into a piece of England. I guess this will be the closest I get to the UK on this trip….no wait…I fly back through London…scratch that. The rock itself is a huge daunting cliff-sided mountain that juts right out of the sea. At the foot of it is spread a quaint little town. They use British money, they speak English….hell, they are British in every way here. Kinda strange.

Checked into a cheap hotel..paying 20 pounds a night for a small room. But that’s the cheapest they have here. It’s a big tourist trap.

After I got all settled, I took the cable car ride up to the top of The Rock. That was scary. There was a woman in the car who was deathly afraid of heights, so she was crying all the way. I felt bad for her, but I don’t know why they didn’t just take a cab ride up….I mean, there is a road and stuff.

When we got to the top, there was a guy standing there who said, “Welcome to The Rock” in a deep Scottish accent, and he pointed the way to go. WHAT A VIEW! I can understand why the British want to hold on to this place. You can see much of southern Spain, as well as across the straights to Africa. That was the first time I ever laid eyes on that continent. Seemed strangely inviting. Whoever controls The Rock, effectively controls access to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic. Very strategic.

After thoroughly enjoying the view for a while, I met up with some Israelis (they are all over the place) and we went to check out the Ape Den. “The what?!”  Yeah, the Ape Den. Apes have apparently inhabited The Rock for hundreds of years. They roam freely about, and don’t seem to be bothered by the people. They come very close to you and let you feed and pet them. They aren’t overly friendly, but at least they tolerate your presence. There is nothing separating you from the apes, so there are all kinds of disclaimer signs saying, “Touch the monkey at your own risk”.

I watched them swinging around the trees for a while…and I handed one of them a bottle that he was playing with but dropped. He took it from me and chucked it over the side, then jumped from the wall on which he was sitting to a tree about 10 feet away. The trees are mostly where they chill, but if you have food, it’s best to keep it hidden cuz they will approach you and bug you till you give it to them. One lady had an unopened bag of chips, and one of the apes took it from her hands, sat on the wall and opened it (just like a human would do) and began to munch. Hours of delight. More fun than a barrel of monkeys.

After the monkeys, I went to a place called St. Michael’s Cave. This is a vast network of caves full of stalactites and stalagmites. I am sure you can picture this, if you have ever visited one of those underground caverns in upstate NY or wherever you are from. Very cool. Literally. It was hot as hell, and the cave gave a brief reprieve from the heat. It was also an amazing natural creation.

So I am back in town now. Maybe I will have some fish-n-chips. That’s the big deal here….it’s the real thing. Wait a sec…I hate fish.

One week to go.

Jared

Jared’s Home Coming Party

DON´T SKIM THIS EMAIL. READ THE WHOLE DANG THANG!

Hiya all!  Well, as you may have been reading, my trip is quickly nearing its end! Hard to believe, since I have been away for so long.

Now, seeing as I am going to summer camp a week after I get back to NYC, I want to have a little get-together for all willing participants. So, my friends, all who I have known over the years, all who I have recently met, come one, come all to:

Jared´s Coming Home/Going Away Again Party!
When: Thursday, June 15th
Where: Luna Lounge, 171 Ludlow Street, just south of East Houston and Katz´s Deli. (Thanks Rob!)
Time:  Early evening, 7:00 pm to whenever

So, save the date. I hope to see everyone there. I will have pictures from my trip and lots of stories to tell. It will be great to have everyone together.

OK, so on to a brief update:

Dad, you will be happy to know I did NOT go to Morocco. No, not because I was worried.  I had actually bought a ticket and everything, and I was supposed to leave at 9:30 yesterday morning from Gibraltar. So, I get up early, drag my ass to the dock, and lo! THE FREAKIN´ BOAT BROKE DOWN. I don’t know if it was a sign from the universe or something, but there were no other boats from Gibraltar going that day, so I was out of luck unless I wanted to haul ass back to Algeciras and take a boat from there. I don´t think my will was that strong, so I abandoned ship. Oh well, what do I have to complain about? I have been to so many places and seen so many cities, what is one more?  Alas, it would have been cool to cross the Straights of Gibraltar.  Oh well, I will live.

So instead, yesterday I hung around Gibraltar, allowing the scooters to drive me batty. They are like swarms of giant mechanical insects constantly buzzing by. I don´t know how people live with this noise on a daily basis.

I spent the day reading. I finished Lord of The Rings! I am overcome by this book. It is just so amazing and epic. I should have read it a long time ago. Thank goodness I did. It goes so well with my journey. But I am sad it is over. I have grown to love the characters so much, and I am sure you know when that happens, it is bittersweet to finish such a good book. Well, that is done.

Now I am in Cordoba, more towards the center of Spain again. Í am spending the afternoon here and then taking a night train to Barcelona. That will be my last train ride on this journey. Wow. I feel like I have spent so much time on trains these last three months…to think that this is the final stretch. It´s surreal. Cordoba is nice…has a lot of old stuff. Looks a little like Seville, but not as much goin on here. The famous Jewish sage, Maimonedes, lived and wrote his works here in Cordoba.

To Barcelona I go! And then, New York!  Someone ready the bagels and cream cheese for my arrival!  And don’t forget the pizza…oh man, it´s been so long.

I will send a few more reminders of my party….

Jared

Jared in Barcelona

Last I left you, I was in Cordoba, somewhere in the central, southern portion of Spain. It was nice and all…but what can I say of it? I was there for a mere few hours, I walked around, saw some old stuff…more ancient buildings and medieval alleyways, and more tourist trap souvenir shops selling “authentic Spanish memorabilia”.

I had bought a ticket for the night train to Barcelona, and reserved a couchette. Remember, these are the sleeper cars that cram four people into a coffin, practically on top of each other. Very close quarters. As the hour arrived, I began to dread the ride. I prophesied to myself: “Verily, there shall be three fat and smelly old men in my car, and behold, the stench thereof shall rise into my nostrils and maketh me wretch”. Perhaps it was the will of the gods to spoil my last ride, or mayhap I was toying with the fabric of space-time with my premonitions, and call me Nostrodamus, but I made the call correctly.

I climbed aboard the train and entered my couchette car, and SMACK! PUNCH! in the face I was hit with nassssty nasssssty BO. And there sat three fat, smelly old men, smiling pleasantly and welcoming me into their stench den. With a grimace of disgust, I dragged my crap in, stored it, and climbed up on my bunk. I faced the wall..put on my walkman…and I tried, really I did…but I just couldn’t stand the smell. I climbed down and made my way to the bar car, mumbling colorful metaphors to myself the whole way there. I sat at the bar and ordered a whole bottle of wine. I figured if I get liquidated, maybe I´ll pass out and sleep through the stench. I poured myself a glass, lifted it to the crowd and pronounced a toast to fat and smelly old men, and proceeded to get ripped. An hour later, I stumbled back to my car, completely wrecked and somehow I managed to climb up onto by bunk and pass out…..I woke up a few times from the stench, but I made it through the night.

So, Barcelona. I had these grandiose visions of getting a nice hotel and spending my last few days in luxury. I planned to use the hotel booking office at the train station to make my arrangements. But there was no booking office. Let the quest begin again. I prayed it would be easy…”Dear travel gods, let my last quest go smoothly, and may I find a nice cheap room, amen”. The gods were laughing at me that day, my friends, oh yes. Every hotel I went to was booked…every single one. I must have tried 15 different hotels, dragging my crap all around the city center. Nothing. Finally I came upon a dingy looking pension that had one dingy room left available, for a lofty price of $30 a night. I had no choice, so I took it. Why, gods, why must I endure these things for thee?

So even though Barcelona is more expensive than I expected it to be, it´s still pretty cool. My pension is right on the main drag that runs through the center of the city, called La Ramblas. This is a median strip full of street vendors and all manner of performers you can imagine. Some of the street vendors are selling birds, live chickens, ducks, ducklings, baby chicks, mice, gerbils, and the whole gambit of rodentery.

Then, you have your books and standard brick-a-brack. But the street performers are certainly the most interesting facet of this avenue. Most of them are the “living statue” types. I am sure you have all seen the people that paint themselves silver and stand on a platform and don´t move until you drop a coin in their box…then they do something mediocre. Well, here in Barcelona, they have taken this practice to the extreme and some of these people have gotten very creative with their art.

There was one guy dressed as a vampire and he laid in a coffin, and when you a drop a coin in, Dracula music starts playin and he rises from the dead, shakes your hand and tries to bite it. Then, there was the ET guy, dressed like our favorite alien, and when you drop a coin in, he holds up his finger and says “ooouuuch” and touches your finger. And let us not forget the Frankenstein guy who, when you drop in a coin, comes to life and chases you down the street trying to make-believe he will strangle you. These are but a mere few of the very creative living statues here. I spent the afternoon walking around dropping coins in all the boxes to see what they would do. Kept me very entertained.

I have been running into a lot of people I have met throughout Spain and Portugal. Strange. It happened three times in the span of an hour…I guess everyone converges on Barcelona before moving on to their next destination. Me, I am goin HOME!

Today I hit the Picasso museum…guess I should take in some serious art before it´s all over…once again.

Don´t forget my party on June 15th, Thursday at Luna Lounge, 7:00pm!

See ya there!

Jared

Jared at the Bull Fights

I shall now attempt to describe to you in detail exactly what goes on at these bull fights that so many of us have heard of, but are not quite sure of what they entail.

Parents, you may want to read this one with your kids….oh hell, they see enough blood and guts on TV and in the movies…so….

Oh, and my vegetarian friends, you have a new ally: Me. But I still like chicken.

Bull Fights are perhaps the most gory, sickening, barbaric display of inhumanity I have ever witnessed. Tonight, in Barcelona, I went to one. Going to a bull fight was something I thought to be the quintessential Spanish experience, having heard of them my whole life. But I certainly was not aware of what went on!

Bull fights are like baseball in Spain…it´s their national pastime, I suppose. It´s a big event, and they have stadiums built just for this purpose. There are famous bull fighters, called Matadors. They are celebrities. People file into the stadiums like they would for any sporting event. The crowd gets very lively, screams, applauds, boos, they throw things into the ring, and they get very angry and emotional. It´s quite interesting to watch.

What happens:

The event begins by parading the three matadors around the stadium. They are dressed in gold outfits looking all adorned. They carry red capes with them, which they use to taunt the bull. There is much cheering and roaring during the parade. Then the field clears and the first matador readies himself for the bull.

The bull comes charging into the arena. It is clearly pissed off. I don´t know what they do to the poor thing behind the scenes, but it comes running in like a freight train and it heads straight for the matador. He waves his red cape, and the bull charges for that. Just as it´s about to hit the cape, he pulls it up and turns around. The crowd cheers “Olay!” I thought this was just a joke, but they really say “Olay!”

So the matador taunts the bull for a while..it keeps charging, he keeps waving his red cape. Then, a horn sounds and into the area come two guys riding horses that are blindfolded. I think they blindfold the horses, because if a horse saw a bull charging at them, they would buck their rider off and run like mad. The horses have shields around their bodies to protect them from the horns of the charging bull. The guys on the horses are carrying big spears. They taunt the bull and it charges the horse, at which time they repeatedly stab the bull. Yes, they stab it…and it bleeds like mad. After stabbing the bull, it goes crazy and starts to run around. Then some more guys come out on the field with mini-spears, and they approach the bull and stab it some more, and the spears stick into the body. So the bull is running around with spears stuck in it, bleeding like mad, panting for breath, slowly dying. All the while the crowd is cheering at the site of this. With every good stab, the crowd cheers. I was ashamed to be a human being.

Once the bull is good and stabbed, all red from blood, the matador comes back alone into the arena and waves his cape some more, and the poor bull keeps heading for the cape. I wish they had more brains to aim for the matador and knock him on his ass, but for some reason they always go for the cape. So, the matador has his fun with the bull, does some dancing around it, smacks it on the ass, plays with it and stuff. The crowd loves this part, and the more daring the matador gets with his approach to the bull, and the more risk he takes, the more they cheer him. Finally, he pulls out a sword and aims right at the back of the bull´s neck and buries the sword to the hilt in the bull. The bull stumbles around, turns circles, falls down, tries to get up, coughs up blood, bleeds profusely, and eventually collapses dead.

There are great cheers and the matador is praised as a hero. He circles the area and people shower him with flowers and applause. A team of men and three horses come into the area and string up the dead bull and drag it around the ring for all to see, leaving a trail of blood, and then through the gates.

This whole sequence repeated six times. Six bulls died tonight, very slow, cruel and painful deaths, all for the pleasure of sick human beings. It´s not safe to be a Spanish bull, to say the least.

I was sickened by the sight of all this. I felt like I was in ancient Rome in the coliseum, watching people get thrown to the lions. I find it hard to believe that bull fights are still common in Spain. Several times I cheered “Go Bull!”,  because honestly, I wanted to see the bull get some good shots in before it got ruthlessly stabbed. At one point the matador slipped when the bull charged him, and he fell under it. The bull kept ramming him and rolled him halfway across the field. That was scary, because the matador could have easily been impaled by the horns. Revenge of the bulls.

So there you have it, the scoop on bull fights, brought to you by moi. Look at what I do for you, my readers 🙂

See you soon…

Jared

The End is Near

The end is near, verily it is upon me.

I find that hard to believe, after months of trekking around this continent. It has finally come to an end.  It feels like forever ago that I left New York…it´s like a faded dream in the back of my mind. The life of a backpacker has been MY life for three months now, and it´s still my current reality, and it´s weird to think my life is about to change again! So much change. But change is good.

When I left New York, I was an unhappy man craving adventure, wanting to see the world and whatever opportunities may be out there for me. After everything, I have learned the real lesson:  The value in having friends and family and loved ones, in a place that you know and can call home. That is what matters in life; your own little universe that you create within your own little sphere of influence.

As human beings, that is all most of us can ever have, and even for the ones who wield more control over the masses, their own little circle matters most to them as well. I have seen so many countries and cities, and I am continually baffled by the sheer numbers of people in this world. It seems like there is just an endless amount of people. Even now, as I am in the Internet cafe, I look around and see dozens of people staring at their screens, typing away, sending messages to their loved ones and friends, and reading about the things that matter to them. They each have their little world, and I have mine.

So, now I return to New York, a place that I have grown to miss considerably. I return to build my little world, live in it, and be happy. But I come with a greater knowledge of the world at large, forever changed by experience, a new person, never to go back to the unhappy rut I left months ago. What I will do, how I will accomplish all of this, I do not know. But I do know that my journey has not ended. It has only begun.

Here now, is a list of the countries I have been to, and the cities I have either seen extensively or passed through for a few hours and got a nice glance. The latter will be marked with a “*.”

Israel:  Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Netanya, Tiveria, Haifa.
Bulgaria:  Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas*.
Turkey: Istanbul, Cappadokia, Pammukale, Selchuk.
Greece: Samos, Mykonos, Athens, Delphi, Patras*
Italy: Brindisi*, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Venice.
Switzerland: Bern, Interlaken
Germany: Munich, Fussen, Dachau, Berlin
Czech Republic: Prague
Netherlands: Amsterdam
France: Paris, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Montpellier*
Spain: Madrid, Toledo, Seville, Grenada, Algeciras, Gibraltar, Cordoba, Barcelona.
Portugal: Lisbon, Sintra, Lagos.

So, the final count is 12 countries (13 if you count Monaco as its own country) and 50 cities. Whoa…the enormity of my trip just hit me. That´s a lot of ground I covered in 3 months!  A lot of train rides…a lot of youth hostels and hotels. A lot of figuring out the currencies, studying maps, getting over “new city” anxiety. This list does not include all the little towns I stopped in to change trains, or just passed through on the fly. Between this list, and all the amazing countryside I have seen from the windows of my trains, I think it is safe to say I have seen Europe, no?

Today, June 6th, is my last full day in Barcelona. Tomorrow, I hop British Airways, stop over in London, and head back to NYC. My last day. It´s over…very strange to think about….

By the way, I don´t think I am going to stop writing these updates. I have enjoyed writing so much, and I have heard so many things from the people reading them about how they have enjoyed them too. So, I may just have to do a “Jared at Camp” series, and after that, who knows?  But it seems this is becoming my journal. So, if along the way anyone gets sick of these emails, let me know and I will be happy to remove you from the list, no hard feelings 🙂

I hope to see everyone at Luna Lounge on June 15th, Thursday, 7:00 pm.  Early evening pah-tay. I will bring my sword for show and tell. Oh, yesterday I bought a hand made drum from Africa, so I will have that to show off too 🙂

Thank you everyone for reading, for all the messages of support. And to all the people I have met along the way, YOU helped make my trip an amazing time. Please keep in touch with me.

So, that´s it. The final update from Europe. End chapter. Let the new chapter begin……NOW.

Jared

Jared at Camp

Greetings all!

The party was a blast…..everything is still cloudy, and I stumbled around, hung over all day as I packed. Thanks for the pizza, Rob, and for lettin’ us hang all night. It was great to see everyone again and when I am finally back for good in the fall, I want to catch up with each of you individually.

So, I am off to summer camp….bugs, camp fires, bunk beds, pre-pubescent / hormonal teens, but no smores and hot dogs on sticks…it’s a weight loss camp. Next time you see me, I shall be half the man I used to be…if the gods are willing. You may ask why I have chosen to go to summer camp at this juncture in my life. Four reasons: 1) To avoid getting a real job;  2) Get in shape;  3) Work with kids; and  4) I ain’t ready to settle down again just yet.

This year has been all about changes for me….changing the things I do on a daily basis to moving from being unhappy to happy. That’s a process. First, I left my job. That was the most stressful part of my life. Then, I got rid of my high priced apartment. Freedom from slavery to high rent. Then, I cut some ties that held me back and took the trip of a lifetime.

I saw many things that I have previously described, and returned a much more worldly man with a broader perspective on life. Now, I embark on improving my physical health, while gaining leadership experience and working with children. I will be a Group Leader, in charge of 50 kids and 10 counselors. I have to know when they are eating, sleeping, and pooping, at all times…making sure they go to their activities, wipe their butts, write to mom and dad, and don’t cause too much trouble. I’ll be playin a lot of guitar too. Should be the summer of my adult life! I don’t know if I will be able to access email too much in order to write about it, but I will try my darndest.

You can call me at 917-690-0343, because I will have my phone at camp. You can also send me text messages at 9176900343@mobile.att.net.

I can’t respond to that email address, but I can read your messages to me….perhaps while I take a break from soccer or hockey…or arts and crafts….or soft ball…or color war…while sipping a mug of bug juice, swatting mosquitoes, and chillin with da boyz.

Have a great summer, all. Keep in touch!

Jared

Jared Still at Camp – Part 2

Well, I am at camp!

Pretty awesome. They put me in charge of a division here, so I have POWER!  muahahaha…nooo, I am being good…it’s very cool to be in this sort of position though. The camp is a standard sort of layout, with all your typical activities…except it’s a weight loss camp, and they keep your diet pretty strict. The counselors arrived yesterday, and we have been doing a lot of training since then. The campers come on Wednesday, and that’s when all hell should break loose according to my calculations…

My kids will be about 14-15 years old…the ripe age of puberty…so I get to deal with all kinds of lovely issues, like “first times” for various things….should be fun. This is the camp I went to as a child, so I have a pretty good idea what to expect from the summer. But this time, I am the adult and the kids have to do what I say….

I should be able to email from time to time, but short messages like this….but it’s always a pleasure to hear from you all…

Jared

Jared Still at Camp

Hello all!

This has to be really short, because I have almost no time to access my email here at camp…I really don’t have time to even sit down and think to myself…there’s always an issue to deal with, or a child to attend to. It’s pretty hectic and stressful, but I am having a good time anyway.

This will be a very good experience for me, and I am losing weight already.  o everyone who has written to me, I am sorry if I cannot respond right away, but I can’t access my email for than a few minutes a week if I am lucky. Please forgive me, and I will write when I can. Know that I am well, having a tremendous time, and I will write as soon as I can.  Please write to me though….

See you all soon,

Jared

Losin’ Some Weight

Once again, I am sorry I have not been able to respond to everyone who has written to me, but I have read every email.

I am doing well. The hours are long here…from 7:00am to 12:00 midnight. I have activities all day with the kids, and I am quite busy. It’s a very interesting job, because I manage a team of 10 counselors and oversee four bunks containing 50 children.

It’s a big responsibility…perhaps more than I have ever had in my life. I am definitely losing some weight, because my pants are loose and I am down a belt notch…it’s a good feeling. Being a Group Leader here is far different than being a camper, because I see how things run and understand the big scheme of the camp…but the campers take for granted that there is some unseen force governing things here and somehow everything just works….little do they know….

Anyway, please continue writing to me. I miss you guys…speak to you soon.

Jared

The Days Go By …

Well, so far I have lost eight pounds….my belt is a lot tighter and my pants are a lot looser! It’s a great feeling.

Other than that, I am pretty stressed out. This is a hard job, to say the least. I have 10 counselors under me, and most of them are pretty lazy. Since I am in charge of four bunks and 50 kids, I feel like I am the general counselor of four bunks….most of the counselors behave as though they are campers too, and I find myself having to yell a lot to get everyone to move.

It takes up a lot of energy, but the kids are really great. I get to hang out with them when there isn’t a crisis to resolve. They like my songs a lot….they often make requests of me to play my original songs, and that’s a great feeling…especially when they sing along. We had a camp fire the other night for all the boys, and I was the music man…we all sat around singing, Let it Be, and various other catchy tunes.

I have a few problem campers who cause trouble…we had to kick out a two of them so far…one for selling candy, and the other for selling marijuana. Hard to believe that stuff happens here…but then again, not so hard to believe. The food is a little gross, but at least I am losing weight.

Hope this note finds everyone well. You can send me real mail…like a letter or a package at the following address:

Jared Nissim, Group Leader
Camp Shane
1311 Old Rt. 17
Ferndale, NY 12734

Please send me mail!!

Jared

Camp Life

Hidey ho all!

I am still in the midst of thick and crazy camp life. Knee deep. It has become my reality.  I wake up at 6:45 every morning, go to a meeting with the head counselors and the rest of the group leaders, talk about any important issues that need to be dealt with, plan the day, plan the week, bitch and complain, and drink coffee with real milk, but carcinogenic sweet and lo.

These meetings are like a wall street trading floor…people screaming and yelling at each other, phones ringing, people coming to the door, tangents after tangents…nothing much gets accomplished. But now we male group leaders started having separate meetings by ourselves…ahhh, peace and productivity.

After the meeting, I go and wake up the kids….and that is like bringing down a horse. Some of these kids do not move in the morning, and not to mention the counselors who don’t do anything to help. Sometimes it takes threats of “ETR” or “ETB” to get them going.  These are common punishments we dispense to the trouble makers:  Early to Rise and Early to Bed. They hate that…so usually it gets them to do our will. Muuahahahahaha……I have power.

We have cleanup before breakfast, and I have to go around making sure the kids are doing their jobs…God knows the counselors don’t do theirs. They are, for the most part, warm bodies that serve little purpose. They bitch and complain more than the kids. Oh well. Half of them think they are at club med, and they can do whatever they want!

Then breakfast, which is usually a small box of cereal and a piece of fruit. The cereal is usually All Bran, a nasty invention better suited for gerbils than humans. But we force ourselves to consume all allowed calories. This is a fat camp, remember. After breakfast, we have morning stretch, where we all do some light exercise and get ready for the day’s activities.

The activities:  Softball, Hockey, Basketball, Tennis, Swimming, Rope climbing, Arts and Crafts, Soccer, Lacrosse, Weight Lifting, etc etc.

Each night there is an evening activity, which is usually pretty dull. A few times we have had talent shows, and that has been fun for me, because I get to sing and play guitar in front of 700 people all by myself. Pretty scary, but good experience for me.

I like it here so far…it has its ups and downs, but I am glad to be doing it. Sure beats the corporate hell I recently escaped from.

You can send me mail or packages at:

Jared Nissim, Group Leader
Camp Shane
1311 Old Rt 17
Ferndale, NY 12734

Peace!

Jared

Pass the Bug Juice … No Wait … It has Sugar in it!

Well, camp is halfway over, and I am about 12 pounds lighter!

Not really losing as much weight as I would have liked, but I am not exactly starving myself the way these campers are. I have the privilege of sneaking an extra portion here and there…it makes all the difference. But either way, I am certainly eating much more healthfully than I did before I arrived.

I mean, my trip to Europe was “Jared’s fast food restaurant and internet cafe tour, 2000” during which I frequented Burger King and McDonald’s almost daily. But here, it’s very low fat…healthy cereals, a lot of fruits and vegetables, and more exercise than I have gotten in years. So in such an environment, it’s hard NOT to lose weight. Of course, on my days off I go crazy….you have to eat real food at least some times.

Beyond the food and exercise, it is phenomenal experience. The kids swing between being extremely funny and easy going and annoyingly frustrating and difficult to deal with.  It’s rare that a day goes by when I don’t throw my hands up in disgust, because they won’t listen to me.

Never a day passes when there isn’t some kind of issue for me to deal with, be it theft or fighting and name calling, or something else. We’ve had to throw a few kids out…most recently we expelled a 330 pound 14 year old, because he blew up at a counselor and went on a rampage threatening to kill everyone. Next day, he was on a plane home…we take these things seriously.

Yesterday, was visiting day. All the parents came so I had to smile a lot. The camp has a policy that all tips have to go through the office, so they can hold it over the heads of the counselors who threaten to quit, I suppose. Hope I got some good tips…I need money!

Being at camp is like being in a bubble. It’s a little world. I like the feeling of being an authority figure in such a little world. It’s nice, because everyone knows my name. So, I walk around all day and all these little kids come up to me and say hello. I smile and greet them, but I don’t really know who they are. I guess that’s how the president must feel 🙂

I’ve also gained the music man reputation I was hoping to have. They all associate me with the guitar and many times so far, I have gotten up in front of 700 people, alone, to sing songs. Most recently, I wrote a camp song and got up and sang it and had everyone singing along. What an incredible feeling to have hundreds of people singing a song that I wrote. It’s really what songwriters fantasize about.

Also, I moved out of the bunk that I was living in with 12 kids, and into a little house they built just for the group leaders. So now I have a lot more privacy, and I can sleep much better…what little time I am permitted to do so.

Peace,

Jared

Still Crazy After all These Months

Hello friends, I hope this email finds everyone happy and healthy!

So …  I have been back in NYC for a few weeks now. I moved into my new apartment in Long Island City, Queens. I dig it. My room is small, but the place is big, overall, and it’s very close to Manhattan. I’m lucky to be one block away from the E, F, and 7 trains, which get me to Midtown Manhattan quicker than if I were living on the Upper West Side. Best of all, it’s cheap, and I’m living with a good friend of mine.

The shock of an unstructured life after camp has sort of left me with a lack of direction. Camp provided me with something to do every minute of the day. Now, I am on my own and somewhat at a loss. I am very hesitant to look for a full time job, because I know that will lead me down the road towards a rut sooner or later, and that would put me exactly where I was before I left NYC at the beginning of this year.

But when I left, I set out to “find myself”, and my purpose, hopefully to come upon the great answer that would bring meaning to my existence. After traveling through 12 countries and 50 cities, meeting hundreds of people, and seeing the most incredible things I have ever seen, and after going to camp and working with great kids and having one of the most intense and rewarding experiences ever….I still don’t know what I want. All I have discovered is that life is very short and there isn’t time to waste.

I could have learned that from a Beatles song had I been listening, but I guess experience is our greatest teacher. I came back with a burning desire to be happy with whatever I am doing in the here and now, because that is all I have. If I am always happy here and now, I will be happy 20 years from now, because that is just the future here and now. But with the pressures of society, friends, parents, and my bank account, I am pondering whether or not to re-enter the corporate world…find some comfortable computer job for $65,000 a year, or should I take more risks for happiness when I am not even sure what will bring that to me. Help me Obi Wan Kenobi….help me!

Well, I am sure all this confusion will eventually give way to a clearer path, or maybe it won’t, and I will just have to pick something. I guess I just don’t want to be normal. I don’t want to sell my life for a salary and wait for the weekends and my precious two weeks off a year. I don’t want to run the rat race and face the ruthless world of work…but we all have to work, including me…we all have to make money if we want to survive….so what shall I do?

Someone suggested I be a teacher…maybe…but then I would make very little money.  SO what do I want? Money or happiness? Why can’t I have both? Why is it so hard to find? AM I the only one who feels this way? Sometimes I think everyone else understands something that I am missing….could it be true? Or could it be that you are all just as confused as me?

Hmmmm.

Jared