Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Germany, Portugal, South of France, Turkey

Being in Germany for the soccer World Cup was a great experience. For the first couple of weeks it was like a non-stop carnival in the streets of the cities. Strangely the German culture seemed to change a bit during the world cup, with people doing typically un-German things, being more laid-back, starting conversations with
strangers, celebrating even when they lost, the police not pulling me over when
I rode my bike through red lights right in front of them. It was a much nicer

I did manage to make a couple of short trips during the European summer. First
I caught up with an Australian friend, Rob, in Portugal for a week. The most
memorable event in Portugal was when we accidentally spent an hour or so in a gay bar. Despite the overly-well dressed male customers and the music that got more camp with each track, neither of realised what type of an establishment it was until I spilt my drink on my crotch and attracted a bit of unwanted attention as I tried to
clean up the mess.

The second trip was a disillusioning long weekend spent driving along the almost mythical "South of France", visiting Marseilles, Nice, Cannes, and Monaco . The south of France turned out to consist of over-priced, over-crowded coastal cities. In Nice, for 25 euros you were allowed to sit on a little spot on the stony beach for the day, where you could admire the other people who also paid 25 euros to be wedged in shoulder-to-shoulder on a patch of gravel. Monaco was especially ugly, with
more bland concrete apartment blocks than I would have thought possible crammed
into a mountainous coastal bay. Having said that, between the towns the stark
rock formations that made up the landscape was magnificent and the water was a
remarkable azure blue.

The third and last trip I made over summer was 10 days in Turkey, I looked at old Greek and Roman ruins in biblical ex-cities, I trundled around the Gallipoli battlefields for a day with busloads of tourists from Australia and New Zealand, and I finished up in Istanbul. Istanbul is one of the most fascinating cities I've seen. There must be at least 6 cathedral-sized mosques in the city, each consisting of domes upon domes and ringed with minarets, the towers that call people to prayer five times a day. The city is half in Asia, half in Europe, with ferries constantly travelling along the coasts and backwards and forwards across the great waterway. There are a few old wooden palaces that remain from the times of the Ottoman empire, and every second street contains an old broken Ottoman-era fountain. The eating was
excellent, with some of the best vegetarian cooking I've tasted. It was the
month of Ramadan while I was there, which is when Muslims eat and drink nothing
at all during daylight, then have a big feast at night the moment the imams
officially declare that the sun has set. This created a festival atmosphere
every night. Istanbul is high on my lists of places to visit again.

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