Thursday, June 30, 2011

My travel companions this trip

Would your kids want to do this? These 2 boys were such troopers, here am I forcing them to be culture vultures like me. This trip was a tough one, we hiked, ate strange foods, visited a place where no English was spoken and we have no Turkish language skills. They devoured the guide book and tried to learn as many Turkish words as they could and I learned a lot more Turkish words too through their effort. We could do 1 to 10 in Turkish. We could say 'tessekuler' (thank you) and 'hos cakal' (good bye). We attracted a lot of attention everywhere we went. The locals have never seen oriental people before.

 Here we are in Ani, one of our favorite places.

 Here is a family who wants a picture taken with them.

They are city slickers and this trip saw them hiking and noticing things in the wild. There's nothing like a curious mind. We were trying to hike 7 km to a village, halfway along I decided we should hitch a ride which we did. Then we were supposed to hike another 7 km to the church and halfway through we caught another ride with another stranger. I wouldn't do this on my own but with them I could. Hitching rides is a very common practice.
These are my nephews, sons of my sister and they are 19 and 22. They were a joy to travel with.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The trip

This trip to North Eastern Turkey was so fantastic, the sights, sounds and smells were so different. We saw very little visitors besides ourselves. We were the star attraction because the locals have never seen Oriental people before. We were stopped everywhere we went for them to take pictures with us. We saw lonely churches in ruins, proudly standing as they have for almost 1,000 years. We saw another country across the plains (Armenia) but could not get permission to walk over and visit. We ate food we've never ate before. We saw people that were different from their countrymen in other parts of Turkey. This was the real Anatolia we were seeing. We had no trouble getting around even with our lack of Turkish language proficiency and they with their lack of the same for English. We used hand gestures and writing on pieces of paper when bargaining on the costs of taxi fares and other costs. I found out that this part of Turkey is so different and so beautiful and have some of the loveliest people. I want to return to it soon.
I came back and plunged into work. My laptop ran out space for more photos and I've been deleting the old ones to make room for the new. Finally I made enough room to upload some pictures.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I,ll gıve anythıng for some coffee and a slıce of chocolate cake and a Western keyboard. Turkısh ıs dıfferent from Englısh and I,m strugglıng. I,d gıve anythıng to sleep ın my own bed. I,d gıve anythıng to be able to communıcate ın Englısh. Thank God for the Internet. Cay (tea) ıs good but I need my coffee and not the Nescafe stuff. Anyway I,ll soon be home.

Hos geldınez from Turkey

Hey, I actually can gırıs yepın (sıgn ın) from thıs computer at an Internet cafe ın Trabzon. Today ıs our last day, we leave tomorrow for home. It has been an ıncredıble trıp but we are ready to go home. We arrıved back ın Trabzon from Yusufelı yesterday, a very long 7 hour bus rıde. So thıs trıp took us startıng ın Trabzon, to Eszurum, Kars and Yusufelı. We were not supposed to be ın Yusufelı but we met a local guıde ın Kars whose name was mentıoned ın Lonely Planet guıde to Turkey, he saıd Yusufelı would be a better choıce. So we made a detour supposedly for one day but we lıked ıt so much we stayed 2 days. Yusufelı ıs a very rural place but there are more Western tourısts here than ın any other place that we have been on thıs trıp. They come for whıte water raftıng. We came for the old Georgıan churches, saw 2 of them. The fırst was Ishan, ıt ıs our favorıte,ıt ıs so beautıfl even though ıt ıs ın ruıns. The second we had to hıke 14 km to get to, half way we hıtched a rıde. Hıtchıng ıs very common ın these parts. Whıle ın Kars we went to Anı at the Turkısh- Armenıan border. It ıs a mystıcal and hauntıng place wıth a few old Armenıan churches and they were so beautıful. On our fırst day ın Trabzon we went to the Aya Sofıa church, now a museum. It was buılt by the almost last Byzantıne emperors, the Comenous famıly. I stıll has some wonderful frescoes. I went back by myself thıs mornıng to take more pıctures, to medıtate, to pray and to sketch.
Thıs has been a magıcal trıp, so spırıtual.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011


This is the fun train that runs between Nice and the French/Italian border. The train service in Greece is not as extensive and we took the long distance buses. This coming trip to Turkey will find us using the buses for the same reason. But elsewhere in Europe there is a more extensive rail network and taking the rails works wonderfully. I plan to be in places where they have a bigger rail hub and then take smaller regional trains or buses to reach the smaller villages. So far it has worked really well though I remember a trip to Conques, France when neither was possible. Here I resorted to hiring a private car and driver. It was a little pricey but well worth the cost. Where I can save money I will, where I can't.... I can't.
I would like to take this train again because there are still more little places that I didn't get to. So many places, so little time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


It was a cold and misty Sunday morning when we took the train from Nice up to the high country at the French/Italian border. It was raining a little. Sospel is so pretty. I was surprised that there were good train service between Sospel and Nice on a Sunday. I guess the whole  idea is to encourage people to get out on a Sunday. I bet in the summer this is a valuable asset, to get out into the high country to hike and to purchase the local produce. We met some German hikers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


A cute artist community outside of Nice. You can take the bus there from Nice, just ask the bus people. There is a connecting bus some way down the road but we managed to get there and back. It is very pretty. I found out about the bus station in Nice during my first trip and its been my life line in getting around in Nice without a car. One year we took the train from Nice to Digne le bains to see the lavender fields. While in Dignes, the only way to get to the lavender fields was to rent a car. That was we did, Sophie drove. It was very expensive, about 69 euros, some 6 years ago. I thought she drove pretty fast but some French driver behind us didn't think so. He was honking and making obscene gestures. That was a lot of fun.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rome to Barcelona - Nice

I love Nice and will always love Nice. It is very cosmopolitan and of all European places, reminds me of Southern California. After all these years living in Southern California (almost 3 decades),  it grows on you, the melting pot of people, being Asian, this is important. Nice has its own melting pot and resembles Southern California more than any other places in Europe. How I even landed in Nice, quite unknown to us Californians is interesting. Way back, some ex colleagues of mine decided we should visit Provence together one summer. As the day grew closer, one by one decided to change their mind and not go. But moi, it was a different story, I told them, 'even if no one eventually goes, I'm still going.' It was just after 9-11 and the fares were a give away. I saw advertised in the Wall Street Journal, a fare of $650 (US) Los Angeles to Nice return. I was on my way and that was how I landed in Nice and fell in love with it. I've been in and out of Nice many times since then. $650 can't buy you a one way ticket these days!
The other beauty about Nice is the availability of buses and trains to most parts of Europe and to the out lying areas of Provence. I took the TGV to Avignon and from Avignon, took the trains to Marseilles, Arles and Aix en Provence. The trains also goes to the cute little villages that dot the border between France and Italy. The bus or train will let you off right in the middle of Monaco. It's amazing. I love Nice.It is so easy to get around in and around Nice.
It was my early forays in independent traveling and the thrill continues till today. I felt like MFK Fischer or Patricia Wells..... (I'm kidding).

Eastern Turkey

I am ın Eszurum rıght now. It ıs so beautıful. I thought the wıld flowers ın the Peloponnese was awsome tıll I came here. There ıs so much more of wıld flowers here beacuse of the vast open spaces. The people here are proud of theır cıty. `Eszurum ın summer ıs beautıful´they tell me and ıt ıs. We leave for Kars tomorrow. We dıdn,t see too many vısıtors hereş just a very few. We are eatıng a lot, tryıng all kınds of food.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For sale

Not too long ago, it was fashionable to buy a piece of real estate in a place you vacationed in and fell in love with. I don't know if it still rings true today. After the banking crisis and the bursting of the real estate bubble in the USA, affording a house in the US is tough, though not impossible. The rules have changed, gone are the days when it is customary to plunk down a huge chunk of change into a house, get a mortgage, be stuck in a dead end job, just so to pay for that 'dream house.' I don't know who coined the phrase 'dream house.' or the other popular one, 'dream job.' There never was a 'dream house' or a 'dream job.' A house and a mortgage is just that, payment till death. The size of houses became increasingly larger and further away from the jobs. Now we are all stuck with a 'little house of horror' situation. Clearly anyone wanting to purchase a home should do so but buy one that is not too huge or too far away. As for 'dream job', one should considerr whatever jobs are available and get a foot in the door. Just as Suzie Orman says, 'arrive early, leave late, come on weekends, be the MVP and be the indispensable employee, one your boss can't do without.'
In my job, I've been the preceptor for many intern Pharmacists and they run the gamut of characters. The most important feature is, they don't have what it takes, they are not tough enough. Considering the jobs are so tough, the only way to handle it is to be tougher than the job. I had a recent case of a staff pharmacist who was paid a huge sign on bonus to work in my store, he quit after 3 months. Mind you, I built this store up, created the jobs, even created his job, I didn't get any bonus. Each year at this time I meet college graduates and I wonder if they'll make it.
In my travels I see a lot of misery in other countries and I am appreciative of the opportunities I still have in the USA. Each time I feel discouraged at work, I think of the poor people I met in Cairo, in Morocco, in China and so many other places, I put a lid on my own misery and go on....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cute village # 3, Saorge

 Where is this cute village? We got off the train and found ourselves in the middle of nowhere. There were two other visitors who told us that the village is a 20 minute walk away past this tunnel. While Sophie is very trusting, she lets me handle all the arrangement, I can see a traveling couple who might fight. I have heard couples on the road, fighting and blaming each other for getting lost. It is frustrating to get lost and you can't speak the local language. Most relationships probably couldn't pass muster in such a situation.
 We've found ourselves in many situations where we had to walk because we don't drive. I remember the year we visited Rocamodour, we walked an hour from the train station and then back. We could have stuck our thumb out to hitch but we decided not to. We did hitch recently in the Peloponnese, I stuck my thumb out when we were walking in Monemvasia and was picked up by this nice Greek lady in a truck.

Saorge is one of the prettiest and the most perfect, it can't get any better than this. Before coming I didn't know it existed. We were gathering information in Ventimiglia on which village to see and the description was such that this should be one of them. We were only able to see a few of these cute villages, there are still a few more that we didn't have time for. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cute village # 2, Breil sur roya

This was taken from a moving train though we did stop and I have other pictures but I like this better. It is the quintessential medieval village, so picture perfect. The river, Roya runs by it and makes it so incredibly charming. That's why I travel, to see places that are different. Imagine living where I do, in Southern California where there is hardly any change in scenery, it is green all the time, no snow, no tornadoes, no nothing, driving to work, come home, go to market, come home..... it gets a little too much sometimes and a change of scenery is absolutely necessary. Lately I've come to need more changes in scenery, Europe has not become enough. That's the human spirit, we crave or at least I do, for variety.
I am sad that I can't go to Syria or Libya right now. These places holds some of the world's most treasured antiquities.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cute village, # 1 Dolce Acqua

It is time to visit cute village number one, Dolce Acqua which is almost an hour by bus out of Ventimiglia. It was lunch time and time for a pasta lunch after all we're still in Italy. It was a really nice al fresco lunch, seafood pasta, under the grape arbor. Dolce Acqua is a quaint little medieval village. We met some elderly German tourists who came in a bus. The pictures are blur because the camera was new then and I didn't know how to use it. I've become proficient since then. I'd had just unpacked the camera the few days before the trip and off I went with it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rome to Barcelona - Ventimiglia

Ventimiglia is the last Italian town before the Italian/French border. It's laid back and slow and host one of the biggest flea market. The market goes on for blocks and blocks of cheap stuff. It's just nice to stroll and people watch. Most of the residents speak French. Ventimiglia has an old part of town which is quite picturesque but the best part of being in Ventimiglia is to visit the cute little villages that dot the French/Italian border into the inland. These villages are accessible by train from both Ventimiglia and Nice in France. These are some of the cutest villages, some French and some Italian. We were to visit them in the days following...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My travel companions

My travel companions this trip to Eastern Turkey are two nephews, sons of my sister. The older one is graduating from Dartmouth in a few days and will go to Harvard next Fall for a masters program. The younger one is still finding himself, like most younger siblings. It's going to be interesting to have different travel companions.
They live in New Jersey and we are meeting at New York's JFK. I have to fly to New York. I'm not looking forward to three flights but I try not to think about it.

Rome to Barcelona - Camogli

Further up the coast from the Cinque terre is a little fishing village, perched up against the craggy coast line. It was steep and the houses were steep, a few stories high and all crowded together, painted in pastel colors. It looke like a painting. It is so laid back, the only noise came from the train as they roll through the very narrow tracks. I had heard about it from a German couple the previous year, they visited and told us it was their favorite. So there we were the next year in Camogli. I'm leaving for Eastern Turkey in a few days. Last year when we were flying on Sun Express from Izmir to Kayseri in Turkey, the inflight magazine featured a town in Eastern Turkey on the Black Sea coast called Trabzon. Here I am, the next year, heading to it. That's how my trips are planned. I read something, hear something, see something, then curiousity takes over and I'm making my way there.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rome to Barcelona - Cinque terre

We didn't stop, we'd already been to the cinque terre the year before. It was really a nostalgic moment as the train rolled past. We saw people leaving the train and heading for the cinque terre. I felt a piercing pain in my heart, the pain of envy, I wished I was returning to the cinque terre. I'd loved our visit the previous year. One must make it a point in this liefetime to visit the cinque terre and spend more than the one day that we spent there.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rome to Barcelona - Rome

 Years ago, the travel writer, Paul Theroux, wrote a book called, 'the pillars of Hercules' where he documented his trips to all the countries that dot the Mediterranean sea starting in Gibraltar thought it was a wonderful idea and read the book many times. While I haven't done this same trip, I did travel from Rome to Barcelona by train a few years ago, visiting some of the more picturesque places that dot the Mediterranean sea. We started in Rome. There are so many incredible places in Rome that selecting pictures to showcase Rome is not easy. All of us have different memories of this wonderful city that I am sure if each of us were to select our favorites, we would come up with so many algorithms. Who can forget this wonderful staircase at the Vatican museum. This picture might appear in many travelers' portfolio.

 I would include the Porchetta lady and eating al fresco a porchetta sandwich in Campo di fiore. All the Japanese tourists were taking pictures of her, us included. We bought a few slices, then asked her for some panne, she pointed to the bakery across from the square, 'qua', she said. I bought 2 fresh rolls, they have just come out of the forno. How great was that? The world is this gigantic amusement park.
Of course, Central Termini, in Rome, the main train station. We've been in so many train stations, we love train stations. It was during this trip that we were accosted by Gypsies. Our train was late, so we spent quite some time on the platform waiting. That's when we caught the eye of this group of Gypsy women, four of them, one had a child. Finally when our train came, we boarded and they followed and closed in on us in our compartment. There was an exchange of words, I was taken aback and almost lost my guard because they spoke English and I don't remember Gypsies speaking English. They said that was their compartment not knowing that I'm a seasoned traveler and I made sure it was the compartment we booked. I asked to see their tickets, they, of course, had none. I didn't back down and they left. As they turned to leave, I realised these were Gypsies, so I said aloud, 'gipsies! The last woman turned around and said to me, 'we are not Gypsies.' But clearly they were Gypsies and we took care of them.
I work hard for what I have and I'm not going to fall over and be taken advantage of, whether in this country or anywhere in the world. I'm not going to go down without a fight. Even as I travel and am carefree, I am very cautious at the same time.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wall of affirmations

 Plastered on the walls in my room are pictures, sayings, dreams and other affirmations, a visual reminder of why I get up in the morning. Life and work is hard and stressful, I need a lot of reminders in order to be able to handle it. But I am getting into the place where I really want to be in. Two days ago I paid off my mortgage, not bad, finished it in ten years of a fifteen year loan. I've worked so hard, saving every penny and paying into my mortgage every extra cent I have. Now I can concentrate on buying gold. I already own some gold coins. While I travel a lot and write about it, my financial life is well looked after and I am a hound when it comes to financial news, preferring some non traditional sources like YouTube for my financial news. I have the good fortune of working in the Jewellery district of Los Angeles among goldsmiths. So its easy to walk into some of them to buy solid gold coins.
One important I learned while traveling in Turkey, when you are not near a money changer, you can go to a goldsmith, they will take your Euros or your US dollars in exchange for Turkish Liras. They need hard currency to buy gold. It is easy to find money changers in Istanbul but when you are in the smaller villages it could be hard and AT M's are difficult to find also. Goldsmiths are plentiful all over the world. Gold is traditionally a form of investment among villagers all over the world. Suddenly I've become interested in gold. I wished I was interested in gold sooner, I would have bought gold at a much lowere price. The price of gold has skyrocketed and it's only going to go up. I'm sure if I traveled with a few gold coins I would do just fine.