Leaving Europe


MattandJoylaniThumbnailWoke up in Istanbul, fell asleep in Helsinki. Tomorrow will wake up in Helsinki and fall asleep in Delhi. How many miles is that?

On a sadder note, we said goodbye to Jackie and Alex after an adventurous jaunt across Europe. Now it’s just us, two homeless hapas.

The Grand Bazaar


MattandJoylaniThumbnailThe Grand Bazaar is not so grand. Although supposedly the largest in the world, it seemed to lack the variety we have seen in so many other markets. There were endless stalls of the “evil eye,” pottery, hookahs, tea sets, and carpets- it was all the same junk. The vendors were tough to bargain with and often the last price they shouted as you walked away from their stand was way too high (we knew this because we could find the same stuff for cheaper in the grocery stores). Some were dramatic, like the guy Matt bought a tea set from, who quipped at the end, “You’re lucky that I’m feeling sick today and haven’t made any money yet.” Another guy was pretty grumpy and lectured Joylani and Jackie that they should ask “how much?” before offering a price. He was embarrassed when they informed him his buddy had already tried to sell them the same stuff at a cheaper price. We heard more than enough “Yes, please’s” and “Where from’s” today, although Alex was pretty entertained by the creativity of some of the salespeople’s lines. In response to the vendors’ guesses of “Spain?” “Kurdish?” etc., Alex would just say, “Yes.” Getting into a conversation they would ask him where in the particular country he was from. Alex would proceed to draw a circle resembling his “country” and point to a spot saying, “Here. I’m from here.” The rest of us would stand about 20 feet away and just laugh. Once Alex told a carpet salesman he was from Turkey, to which the salesman responded, “You’re from Turkey? I’m from Korea!” Matt thinks the high prices are a result of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar being internationally known and being a main site in the city. Consequently, the stall owners can get away with higher prices with all the westerners and cruise-ship shoppers. We didn’t buy that much- partly because we’re not going home, partly because it was expensive, and nothing was very unique.

Turkey may be my favorite country on this trip so far. It’s definitely the most different from what we’ve seen and from home. The food is the best and it’s the most adventurous place as well. It is more expensive than I had anticipated, although its much cheaper than the other countries we’ve visited. Also, much of our cost was due to above-average amounts of transportation (long-distance buses, ferries, etc.). But it’s been fun. Selcuk and Ephesus were super chill and Istanbul is beautiful. The skyline is perhaps the best I’ve ever laid eyes on- all the mosques, minarets, and bridges illuminated against the night sky and the Bosphorus. The hilly peninsulas of the city reminded me of San Francisco. People are friendlier here in general, than the rest of Europe. The combination of looking like a local (ie Turkish or central Asian), retailers/restaurateurs speaking English, and the friendliness of the people makes Turkey a very comfortable place. These things combined with my love of Greco-Roman history have definitely earmarked Turkey as place I’d like to revisit.



164_6445-4.JPGAt 10 this morning, we were eating breakfast at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant, overlooking the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque (both of which are just across the street). Yesterday at 10 am, we were exploring Ephesus, the greatest Roman ruins in the world. And two days ago at 10 am, we were strolling through the ancient Athenian Agora, at the foot of the Acropolis. The morning before we were in Milan and the morning before that in Lucerne. It just hit me at breakfast this morning how much we’ve seen. I told everyone that I feel like Ferris Bueller, when he tells Cameron, “We’ve seen everything today!” Fortunately, Joylani, Jackie, and Alex are happier than Cameron, who responded, “Not anything good.” Joylani’s already doubled the number of countries she’s been to. Our first day in Turkey concluded a two-week period in which we’d visited 12 nations.
We started our day by visiting the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sofia). The Blue Mosque was built in the 17th century by an Ottoman sultan who wanted to build a mosque that would surpass the Aya Sofya in beauty and grandeur. Even though the Aya Sofya is far more famous and has much more history, I actually did think the Blue Mosque was better looking. We were allowed to walk though it, as we went between prayer times. I cannot describe how big it was on the inside, but the art and architecture were awesome. Afterwards, we headed to the Aya Sofya, the most famous site in Istanbul. The original structure collapsed in an earthquake, when Emperor Justinian decided to rebuild it as the greatest church in the world. It took only five years to build, but remains one of the great accomplishments of human building. That was all in the sixth century. By the 13th century, Constantinople was conquered and its name changed to Istanbul. The Hagia Sofya was converted to a mosque and its interior plastered over, since Islamic law forbids representation of the human form. But in 1935, Istaanbul’s first president, Ataturk (who’s still regarded highly enough that his portrait is on all Turkish currency and his photo is displayed in many shops) declared the Aya Sofya museum and had the plaster removed, revealing beautiful intricate mosaics from 1500 years ago. One thing I found interesting is that our trip is following the ancient waves of power. We saw 4th century Athens ruins, and then turn-of-the-millennium Roman ruins, and now 6th century Eastern Rome ruins, and many of Istanbul’s sights are from the sultanates height of power as well.
After seeing the sights and changing our clothes (since we had to cover ourselves to enter the mosque), we headed out to find some food. This hasn’t been a problem in Turkey for two reasons: the food is good and there’s a million guys trying to get us to come to their restaurant. Most waiters stand outside their restaurant and ask, “Where you from?” Although some just cut straight to the point with things like, “Yes, please. Come eat. Student discount. Korean discount too.” We’ve been mistaken for almost everything, although many people think we’re Turkish or central Asian as well. Several people just start speaking to me in Turkish, while others ask if we’re from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, and so on. Mostly what we’ve been eating are kebaps (although spelled and pronounced kebab in the US), which are basically pieces of chicken or lamb stuffed in a piece of bread. Not only are they delicious, but they only cost 1.50 – 3.50 USD. So we’ve been pretty much surviving on those, with the exception of at least one “real meal” a day.


After eating and exploring the city a bit longer, Joylani decided to rest while I went with Jackie and Alex to check out Taksim Square. Jackie really wanted to see it as it’s the center of Istanbul’s modernity and nightlife. Western upscale stores lined the main wide street emanating from Taksim, while upscale and expensive restaurants were everywhere too. We found an alley of the main street that offered hookah. So we saw at a little table, ordered an Efes each, and enjoyed hookah (narghile as the Turks call it), where it originated. I can say that it was the best hookah I ever smoked. The tobacco retained its taste ‘til the very end and it was still hitting good. One thing that’s different about Turkish hookah is that the shafts at the end of the hose are all 2-3 feet long, so you have to hold it in the middle (unless you have super long arms). The Efes was good, but I think I was a bit biased due to the fact that we had just walked a long way and I was really hot. It was difficult, but I limited myself to one-hour of hookah and one beer before we decided to call it a night. Eating breakfast overlooking some of the worlds greatest architecture and winding down the night with some Turkish narghile.



164_6445-4.JPGToday we explored Ephesus, the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. Although the city existed for centuries, it reached its height during the first and second century AD, when its population reached 200,000. The thing that impressed me most about Ephesus was its scale. Everything was big. Big columns, big walls, big streets. The two most famous sites in Ephesus are the front of the Library and the Grand Theatre. The library was awesome just because the very high two-story façade is still standing, while much of its detail remains intact. Looking at it, you don’t have to imagine too much what it would’ve looked like. The Theatre was impressive due its size, as it had a capacity of over 25,000. I believe it’s the largest and best preserved theatre in the Roman world. And of course, the history of the place was not lost on me. The architecture was world renowned in its day and I’ve studied it in Art History classes thousands of years later. It was cool to see the theatre, as it was central to Paul’s story when he was in Ephesus. The city is written about so much in the Bible and the ruins are preserved so well, it’s easy to imagine everything. It’s not like there’s a few sentences in the Bible about Ephesus and we looked at a couple fallen pillars. We walked down the main street, we saw the ruins of the homes, there were inscriptions on everything, statues were still standing, the promenade to the harbor was in good shape, we looked out and saw the same hills that the Greek and Roman Ephesians did. And since Turkey isn’t first world yet or ultra-touristy like Paris or Athens, we could walk anywhere, climb up stairs and walls, and touch things. This is a pretty condensed summary, but it has to be or else I’d write forever about it.


After Ephesus, we were all about to die of heat-stroke, so we hit the beach. It was definitely more conservative than Germany or Greece, where the beaches had topless women. Here, most of the women wore super-conservative bathing suits and I even saw some women fully-clothed in the water- full clothing, overcoat, and head covering. It’s gotta be tough for Islamic women to wear so much. It’s been like a million degrees out and they’re wearing clothes, plus a long-sleeve ankle-length overcoat too. I mean not all women, but some. The longer I’m here, the more I realize that Turkey is both European and Middle-Eastern. You can’t classify it as one or the other. We are definitely moving east though, as I noticed some Turkish children laughing at my white skin at the beach.

Turkey- The Land of the Amazing Mustache


joylani-thumbnail.JPGWe made it to Turkey, and, even better, we made it to our planned location in not too much time and more or less one piece. Touts, “yes please” followed by solicitations, and negotiable prices mark the end of our time in the EU and the beginning of our travel in more Eastern and less developed countries than the beginning off our trip. Ruins of an old church we saw today were beautiful in their mix of crumbled stone, green grass, and freedom to roam just about anywhere. But what struck me first about Turkey were not the old sites, but the majestically thick mustaches about half the men here are sporting. No more dainty French facial hair and sculpted sideburns. Thick mustaches, that’s where it’s at.

164_6445-4.JPGWe made it to Turkey! I guess its somewhat symbolic as its technically Asia Minor, although its generally considered part of Europe. Although very modern and progressive, its definitely not first world. Jackie came up with a checklist of things that verify we’re in a developing country, rather than a developed one:

-Everything is negotiable.

-There’s not really any rules.

-The majority of people out are men.

-Sanitation is not a concern.

-Its insanely hot.

-People address you as, “Hallo sir” and try to hawk you junk. i.e. “Halo sir, you please like postcard.”

-Restaurant menus are in no way indicative of what’s available.

I love the developing world. It’s so much more free and fun. For example, we went to the Basilica of St. John, which are the ruins of a church built on top of the Apostle John’s tomb. The ruins weren’t under construction and everything was original rather than restored. Columns were lying all over the place and stairs led up to the edge of fallen walls, but there were no ropes or anything. You could walk on anything, explore anywhere, touch everything. It looked like ruins, it was rugged. There weren’t walls or fences enclosing us. We could walk to the edge of the plateau/hill and look across the landscape. The same landscape that John saw two thousand years ago when he returned from his exile on Patmos. It was beautiful and we could enjoy it. It wasn’t just an attraction, but an experience.


Ruins at the Basilica of St. Jean. Find Jackie and Alex in the foreground for an idea of its sıze.

Continuing yesterday’s post, our itinerary is becoming more and more Biblical. We traveled through Izmir (known as Smyrna in antiquity), which was one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. And then we saw John’s final resting place today. I hope to see the house that Mary lived in tomorrow. But if we don’t have time, at least we’ll explore Ephesus, which was also an important city in the New Testament. It was also one of the seven churches listed in Revelation. Additionally, one of Paul’s letters to that church is included in the New Testament, as the Book of Ephesians. And the Book of Acts describes Paul’s actions in the city, including in the theatre where we will visit. And on our walk back we’ll see the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders and also mentioned with Paul in Acts. Again, my excitement for history has gotten ahead of me as we haven’t even visited these places yet. But we will tomorrow and I’m stoked.

Athenian Agora


The Ancient Agora from Areopgus. Modern Athens in the background.

joylani-thumbnail.JPGI went to the Acropolis and I saw Norah Jones. This was actually my highlight of the day. The Acropolis was as I expected: large columns and lots of stone. A large portion of the main structure was surrounded by scaffolding. Seeing Norah Jones practice a few songs while checking sound for her concert at the Herodes Atticus Theater (just below the Parthenon) was not something I expected to see, but it was most definitely wonderful. The venue, a large semicircular amphitheater, is an awesome place for any concert, but on a sweltering hot afternoon after a long day of travel, hearing the smooth sounds of Norah Jones resonating through the theater was a refreshing surprise.


Norah Jones, warming up in the ancient Theater of Herodes Atticus

Ancient Greekness didn’t leave me disappointed though. Matt and I went to the National Museum of Archeology in Athens, and I was impressed by the good condition of many of the sculptures and other works there. Additionally, this museum had interesting and informative descriptions about the pieces and different stages in Greek history. I learned that many sculptors would make copies of popular masterpiece statues and saw the originals they copied, and I saw the gold mask of Agamemnon, something I recognized from a history book and never thought I would actually see in person. On our second day in Athens we also saw the Agora, which I enjoyed more than the Parthenon the day before. There were more plants in this section of the ruins—pomegranates and olive trees, and the Agora itself was in pretty good shape.

As Matt and I walked down the hill to view the structure up close I tried to imagine what it was like back in Ancient Greece. You know—togas, people sitting on the streets talking, kids running around. Before this trip I hadn’t been to too many old places and one of the things that I have enjoyed about all the sightseeing isn’t just seeing the site but allowing me being there to help me to better imagine what it was like before the places were tourist destinations.

164_6445-4.JPGTwo H-words can adequately describe my Athenian experience: hot and history. We began our day early to avoid the day’s heat. First, we stopped by the famous Theatre of Dionysios, at the base of the Acropolis. It was in pretty bad disrepair, but it was cool to see the size of the amphitheater- I believe it sat 17,000. Then we strolled through the Ancient Agora, which was the town center of ancient Athens. I enjoyed the Agora, because unlike the Acropolis temple complex, the Agora was where life took place- the markets, forums, and homes. Like I wrote yesterday, it was amazing to think about all the history as we walked around. The main path we walked on was the main boulevard (I forgot the name of the street though) of Athens for 800 years. Any ancient Greek worth their salt walked those steps. As a Christian, I’m delving into the Biblical history of all places we’re seeing, trying to read passages that relate or take place where we’re going. For instance, we took pictures from a hill called the Areo Pageous (aka Areopagus), which was the site where Paul preached to the Athens in the New Testament Book of Acts (Acts 17:16-34). In a way, this part of the trip is a pilgrimage of sorts. Besides the history, it was impressive to see the size and scale of a city built over 2500 years ago.

Joylani and I spent the afternoon checking out the National Archaeological Museum, while Jackie and Alex hit the beach. Both Joylani and I were impressed with and enjoyed the museum. It was simple, yet more informative and educational than places like the Louvre. The museum had English translations on everything, something the French would never do. Plus, I’d say the museum had the best collection of Greek sculptures I’ve ever seen, although the museum is famous for its unsurpassed collection of funerary works.

After meeting up, the four of us headed to Piraeus (Athen’s port) to catch our ferry to Chios. We had “airplane style seats” in a huge room with hundreds of other passengers. We were on our way to Chios, while others took it all the way to Lesbos (Mytilene) or connected to Samos. I found that interesting as well, because I read that Paul also stopped at all three of those islands on a journey from Troas to Jerusalem (Acts 20:13-16). Anyways, we’ll only be stopping on Chios for a few hours until we can catch a ferry to Turkey.

Athenian Acropolis


164_6445-4.JPGI tried to go to sleep already tonight, but there’s no way. We’re lying in our room right now with the AC on and its 88 Fahrenheit. We know because Joylani’s travel alarm clock has a thermometer on it. When our flight landed in Athens today though, our pilot announced it was 104! I thought I sweated a lot when we hiked up Mt. Pilatus, but I’ve been sweating non-stop since we got to Greece.

From the airport, we took a city bus into town. From there we walked to our hostel in Plaka, a touristy district of Athens near the Acropolis. We were drenched in sweat from our bus ride and walk (both with our backpacks), but we quickly left our hotel to explore to see the Acropolis’ sites. Within minutes, we were staring at one of the greatest achievements of ancient civilization: the Parthenon. It was good enough to make the Seven Wonders of the World two thousand years ago and it’s still amazing. I’ve seen a lot of amazing architecture built by ancient civilizations, like the Taj Mahal or the Mayan pyramids at Tikal, but there’s something different about the Athens. It’s the history.

So much has gone down here. I studied about Athens in a million different history classes in college. Athens was at its height in every way during the middle of the 5th century BC. But the decades-long Peloponnesian War against Sparta ended with Athen’s defeat (I think around 405 BC). Athens then came under the control of Alexander, and later his generals, before Rome took control of the entire region. Then the divisions of the Roman Empire saw Athens fall under different jurisdictions for a long time. I may be a nerd, but that’s just off the top of my head- I think I just typed it because that sort of things excites me. But even beyond the political history, it’s exciting to think of the people that were here too. Tomorrow morning, we’re going to visit the Agora. Socrates questioned there. Paul evangelized there. Kind of crazy that those guys hung out within a mile of where I’m lying down typing right now. Enough about the history of Athens though.


While I wandered around the Acropolis, Joylani sat and watched Nora Jones practicing for her concert in the impressive Theater of Herodes Atticus. Afterwards, we all explored Plaka for a little while before settling down for a good Greek meal: a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes covered in olive oil, a pork gyro, and glass of the red house wine. All four of us agreed it was the best meal we’ve had in awhile. The heat is unbearable (although good training for when we’ll be India next week), but today was a great day: a new place that’s totally different from home/N. Europe, lots of history, and a good meal.



164_6445-4.JPGToday was a long day and a tough one. We awoke early and spent a couple hours wandering Lucerne, before catching our train to Milan. We were in Switzerland, because both Joylani and I wanted to see it. We were heading to Milan because its one of the main transportation hubs of Europe, where we could take a cheap flight to Greece. But a train ride south through the Alps was appealing, so I was really looking forward to today. But the train scenery wasn’t quite as dramatic as I expected. But it was still nice to see a couple awesome views and a handful of extremely beautiful lakes. We arrived in Milan with pretty low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised. Duomo was a stunning cathedral- perhaps the most unique and intricately designed one we’ve seen thus far, which is saying a lot considering how many we’ve been to lately. Our hotel was simple, but nice.

But we are beat. For the first time this trip, I thought perhaps our European itinerary is too crazy. Maybe we should have done less. But then again, we’ve gotten bored by staying in the same place too long before too. I think its tough because we had to plan everything ahead, due to Europe’s expensiveness and developed transportation system. Its not like Asia or Latin America, where you can just hop on a bus or train at a second’s notice. But Joylani is right, when she tells me we’ve seen a lot. Maybe we planned to do too much, but it hasn’t been a bad trip. And she’s right. Who wouldn’t kill to do what were doing? I woke up yesterday to Mount Pilatus, instead of an alarm clock. Instead of sitting in an office all day, I hiked up a mountain. I’m tired today, but I was usually tired after work too. We’re fortunate…and still tired.

Mt. Pilatus


164_6445-4.JPGThis morning, I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was Mt. Pilatus. Absolutely amazing. I don’t wake up to scenery like that too often.

After getting ready, the four of us (Joylani, my brother Alex, my sister Jackie, and myself) headed out to meet Melissa, one of Joylani’s friends from home. Melissa is also traveling around Europe right now and met up with us in Lucerne yesterday. After deliberating a bit about what to do, we decided to hike up Mt. Pilatus. The way up is split into three sections, each of which can be ascended via trail or gondola (basically a room on a ski-lift). We decided to at least hike the first part, which was marked as suitable for beginners. It was actually pretty steep and fairly tiring, although we completed the 1500 ft vertical ascent (I have no clue how far we actually walked though) in about the 1.5 hour estimated time. I guess it was suitable for Swiss beginners, because we were all drenched in sweat at the end.

Alex and I decided to hike the second part too, which was designated for experienced walkers, while the three girls took the gondola up to the next stop. While the next part was also only a 1500 ft vertical ascent, it had a lot more ups and downs. Rather than switching back, the trail just went straight up the mountain for the most part. I was thinking maybe we bit off more than we could chew, but Alex and I just kept pushing each other. Okay, he pretty much laughed at me and mocked my post-college out of shapeness, which embarrassed me into continuing to hike. I mean, I couldn’t let my little bro be tougher than me. So we trudged upwards, dripping in sweat, and exhausted. But the views got better as we climbed up. We could see all of Lucerne, and then the surrounding mountains, and finally everything on our side of the mountain. We finally arrived at the small town, Frakmunten, where Joylani was waiting for us (Jackie and Melissa had taken the final gondola up to the summit). We took a few photos of the surrounding views and agreed to take the gondola up the last section of the mountain, which was designated for “experienced climbers.” Beginners was difficult, experienced walkers was a tough hike, but we’re not experienced climbers in the US and certainly not in Switzerland. It’s a good thing we attempt the hike, because we could see the path below us as we went up. It was scary to look at- hiking up steep, winding, razor-thin ridges was scary, not to mention it was a pretty windy day.


The view from the top was awesome though. We could look down on all of Lake Lucerne, as well as all the peaks surrounding us. In the distance, snow-capped peaks rose above the clouds. Although only at 7000 ft, the view from the top was well worth the hiking and gondola fee.

Speaking of money, that is the one thing I don’t like about Switzerland. Everything is super expensive. An entrée at any restaurant cost a minimum of 10 USD, with most restaurants being considerably more expensive. What I’ve seen of Switzerland is beautiful, but the cost of everything makes it less enjoyable for me. Perhaps I was overly cheap the past two days, but Switzerland is overly expensive too. We ended up buying most of our food at the grocery store, which is why I’m now sick of bread, cheese, and deli meats. All in all, Switzerland is great, but it’s impossible for me to justify spending so much money on things here. If we were on vacation that’s one thing, but we’re traveling for the long-term. On the other hand, it’s not everyday that we’re in Switzerland, in the Alps.



164_6445-4.JPGLast night, we were debating whether to take a taxi to our train station or try our luck with a shuttle, metro train, and short walk. It was pretty much a choice of budget versus expediency. We figured if the metro wasn’t open so early on a Sunday morning, we could fall back on our taxi plan. So we left pretty early. Our shuttle took less than five minutes, we caught an express train a couple minutes after arriving at the station, and the walk was quick and downhill. Although we planned to get there a bit early, it took us half as much time as we expected. It was great, because between our lost baggage and bad luck with transportation, it seemed things were starting to go our way. Before we left, we thought through all the unknowns and everything that could go wrong. So it was nice to have unknowns actually work in our favor.

Our lost baggage did teach me a couple things though, although Joylani says she already knew all the things I’m about to write. Firstly, I’ll always carry my glasses/contacts with me. Secondly, I’ll try to spread our important things between our backpacks and daypacks. That way one lost/stolen bag isn’t gonna kill us. It’s like investing. Diversification is key. Ideally you won’t lose anything, but you have to assume you will at some point, so it’s best to spread your assets around. Of course, even that wouldn’t have helped my parents and grandparents, who just flew home and lost 7 bags. Out of seven checked suitcases, zero made it on a direct flight home. Ridiculous.

Luckily, we didn’t have to check anything today though, as we took a train from Paris to Lucerne, via Basel. The train ride was great. I’m a train lover anyways, but the ride was awesome. I dozed off as our train snaked its way out of Paris. When I awoke an hour or so later, we were chugging through rolling fields or yellow and green. Tall clumps of trees dotted the fields and ever few minutes, we’d pass by red-tiled-roofed villages centered around small cathedrals. I enjoyed staring out at the sea this past week, but there’s nothing like riding on a train watching the landscape pass by. As we approached the mountains, we began to see castles and turrets perched on many of the peaks. Although all the cities we’re seen are different from at home, the scenery from the train window was totally different.

We arrived at the Lucerne train station and walked out the entrance to beautiful Lake Lucerne. That was beautiful by itself, but then we turned around and saw the Alps looming above the city. Lucerne is a beautiful place.