I’ve put off blogging about traveling intentionally. Mainly because most people who write about their travels seem to always come-off sounding pretentious or like they’re bragging about going here or there. I certainly don’t want to reinvent new passive-aggressive ways to brag about the same ole things but there are a few observations I’d like to make and a few experiences I’d love to share with others about traveling.
I especially want to recommend others to visit some of our favorite places and introduce the special people we’ve met along he way. I won’t even try to discuss food because we all have so many personal likes and dislikes that it’s far too subjective a topic to even attempt. Being used to a southern diet, I’d be the last person in the world to offer a fair assessment of international cuisine.
I hope by the end of this blog I can both achieve my goal of sharing and entertaining without losing what few subscribers I actually do have…so; here I go.
I turned 50 this week and some of you know that I’ve been traveling with two bulging discs and spinal stenosis. The last several trips we’ve gone on were during some pretty painful times as well…suffering with plantar fasciitis of both feet – so it has become painfully obvious to me and Emily that we should do his sort of thing while we are young instead of waiting till we can actually afford it. At least that’s how we’ve been justifying it anyway.
First, let’s talk about the people…the ones you travel with (I.e., friends or motor-coach-mates) and the ones you meet along the way (I.e., hosts and locals). People – the good, bad, and obnoxious – factor very high among what makes for special or particularly memorable trips. Emily and I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled to some amazing places but also to have met and traveled with some pretty incredible folks.
We’ve also fanned the stench of a few turds along the way too. Being from the South, I have a tendency to placate offensive behavior under normal circumstances as a way to just be nice and get along but I’ve learned that when you’re spending money and trying your best to enjoy yourself and the amazing things you’re getting to see, you just have to speak up and quickly neutralize any negativity wherever it pops up or you’ll end up having more bad memories than good ones.
Believe it or not, on one trip we actually met a guy who thought that America should formally adopt French inspired economic and tax policies but also told me that he was appalled that southern white people indiscriminately kill black people whenever they want. Wow! What are they drinking in Cleveland these days? For the rest of the blue-necks out there, NO we don’t, nor would anyone want to. It’s amazing what dramatic television and a little news bias can conjure up in people’s minds. We have the same sets of demographics as everyone else in America, we just talk funny and eat better food.
When a mandatory seat rotation forced us to sit next to each other, I just politely told him that political conversations just piss people off and magically he became a decent conversationalist. Imagine me telling someone to stop talking politics…you know it had to be bad. But it was a lesson learned. It’s your vacation too so set some boundaries and let loose – after all, you may only be going to visit ancient Roman toilets once in your life!
We were fortunate, however, to sit next to a retired 76 year old Catholic Nun this trip too. Darlene and her traveling companion Ruth were terrific to travel with. There are a few pictures of them scattered on my Facebook pics…the best one is Darlene holding up a small plastic water bottle with an alcoholic beverage inside on our hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Darlene and Ruth were excited to see the ancient cave churches by air but also a little apprehensive of what the balloon ride might be like. I asked her what was inside the bottle and she pricelessly responded, “holy spirits”. We loved them so much.
Eileen and Don were from Boston and we had such a great time traveling with them. Eileen was so sweet, like the mom in your neighborhood that all the other kids wanted, always checking on us and making sure we were comfortable. With a perpetual smile on her face she livened up the crowd no matter how tired we were. Her husband Don has a wonderful Boston accent and we cracked up all day long listening to Angel, from Mt. Airy, North Carolina, trying to banter with him using a Mayberry – Boston brogue.
Speaking of Angel, her and her companion Gary turned out to be the most awesome traveling partners ever. Gary is from Wytheville, Virginia and owns “Old Fort” with his cousins, a western store that Emily sells Wrangler products to. If you’re in the area, look him up and buy some Wrangler jeans. We’ve had so much fun traveling with them and have laughed incessantly for two thousand miles. You never really know someone until you’ve spent two weeks with them eating questionable meat products that defy the rules of pronunciation. Gary and Angel are two of those people you’d want to be with if you’re suddenly trapped in a place that’s government has banned the use of toilet paper.
Last but not least, I have to give honorable mention to our Asian friends. Let’s get one thing straight…I love Asian people. Having been to Japan, I can say that it was one of my more awesome traveling experiences. BUT, hum, how do I say this politely? Ok, I’ll just let it out; as nice as Asian people usually are, as a rule they absolutely cannot wrap their minds around the concept of an orderly line. One minute you’re thinking, “oh, that Asian couple is so sweet, let’s invite them over for the weekend”, and the next minute they’ve jumped ahead of you in a line that you’ve been patiently waiting your turn in for 20 minutes. Oh well, we all have a different set of norms don’t we?
What about the facilities? You know what I’m talking about don’t ya? Yes, I’m talking about the good ole porcelain throne…well, in some cases it’s more like a “porcelain stone” with a hole in it. If you haven’t seen one, they’re actually pretty common in public restrooms in the Near and Far East. It’s like a flat or “flush” (pun intended) porcelain contraption with a hole in it that you must be an professional athlete to use. I avoided it as long as I could but eventually “stuff” happens and one must “doo” in Rome as the Romans “doo”. Be forewarned that decent upper body strength, the ability to ignore the occasional shoe faux-pas and having anatomically forgiving body-parts may be required.
Now let’s talk about places. Every place has its focal point or its special attributes. Germany has its Castles, quaint walled riverside villages and great beer. France has its wine, beautiful language and art. Italy has two-thirds of the worlds ancient treasures, overly expressive hand gestures, and great food. Hawaii has beautiful beaches, volcanos and beautiful people doing the hula and other ethnic or war dances. If you’ve been to these places then you know what I’m talking about.
But Emily and I have made a conscious decision to go to some places that most Americans seldom visit. Last year it was the Dalmatian Coast of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. This year it was a two-week / two-thousand mile cultural saturation of Turkey. We’d been to Turkey once before with another couple, Keith and Sheri, who were very generous to include us in their family vacation 5 years ago but we’d only seen a small portion of Turkey in the two days we were there which sort of percolated an interest for us to see even more.
Little did we know at the time that Turkey held so many historical treasures, especially for Christians. As you may know, Christianity was not allowed to be practiced legally until he 4th century. The Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who’s mother was Greek, finally authorized the religion to be openly practiced in the 380 A.D. as the Greek Orthodox Church, in tribute to his beloved mom. Well, despite the risk of death, Christianity was secretly being taught in tiny cave churches in Cappadocia, Turkey, in the first century A.D..
These were the first Christian churches known to have existed. The villages in that region lie squarely between two now extinct volcanoes which formed some pretty amazing and unusual conical shaped stone formations that the early Christians carved caves inside. The locals call them fairy chimneys. Think dakota badlands meet hobbit villages and you’ll have a general idea of how they look. You could also Google it if you want to see what they look like but that would just be boring, go see it because it’s amazing. People still actually live in some of these caves.
Most of Christ’s Apostles taught, preached, and lived for periods of time in many of these now Turkish cities which were part of the Roman Empire at the time. The seven churches of Revelation are all in Turkey – we visited 4 of them. Two of the 7 wonders of the ancient world were in Turkey – we visited one. Mount Ararat is also in Turkey. The first known use of he word “Christian” was in ancient Antioch in southeast Turkey. Having the privilege to stand where the Apostles would have stood to preach is truly an amazing thing.
If I had to pick my choice of my top 3 places I’ve visited in terms of beauty or just the plain cool factor, I’d say my choices would be:
Hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia;
Prague (old city); and,
The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.
If you’re thinking of traveling to see early Christianity sites and you’re terrified to travel to Israel, try Turkey. The people love Americans, can speak decent English (for the most part) and the country is undergoing an infrastructure transformation in an attempt to be accepted to the EU so their roads are improving and their accommodations for tourists are very good. Plus, they have this cool meat called Doner…whatever in the heck that is.