Tuesday, March 22, 2016


In just three weeks, I return to one of the loves of my life, Istanbul. I have often felt like my relationship with this stunning city could be compared to an average guy (me) that falls deeply in love with a beautiful women that happens to be way out of his league (Istanbul). He gives up everything to be with her and they are together for a while.. but in the end he realizes it is never going to work... but they always remain dear friends. As cruel as she has been to me sometimes.. she has been equally charming, entertaining and generous.
When I left NYC in 2005, there were 2 cities in all the world I wanted to live in. Quito, Ecuador.. the second highest city in the world, close to the Amazon Jungle, Galapagos Islands and right in the middle of the Andes Mountains. The other city was Istanbul, Turkey with its 5000+ years of history, palaces, grand bazaar, grand mosques and home to my favorite dessert in the world, baklava. I had been madly in love with Turkish music ever since hearing Tarkan bing played in the Virgin Record Store in Times Square way back in 1999. I rushed to the in-store DJ and begged him to tell me the name of the band and to point me in the direction to buy the album. Tarkan is what initially put Istanbul on the map for me.. but after spending just a little time researching Turkey, I knew it was a place that I desperately wanted to visit.
In 2005, I moved out to the USA to Quito and loved every second of it. I had my own online marketing company that I started right before I left the USA, and though I moved to South America with only $35 in my pocket, by the end of my first year, I was renting the entire top two floors of a high-rise building in a trendy part of the city. I really wish I had taken more photos of this apartment. My bedroom window looked out over all of Quito and I could see the peaks of 3 volcanoes on the horizon. Regardless, after nearly two years, the stunning apartment, amazing Ecuadorian friends and even a very sweet relationship, couldn't satiate my desire to get to Istanbul.
I flew to Athens to meet up with my friend Guy Smith, and then sailed with him on a cruise into Istanbul.
Part of the reason I was so eager and excited to get to Istanbul at this specific time, was the promise of a position on the production team of a major, international sporting event. I honestly don't blame anyone that this major event never ended up happening.. the problem was though, that I was an absolute idiot and gave up all of my online marketing clients before I left South America. I was so sure and overly ambitious about this new opportunity.
So I had moved to the city of my dreams with a rapidly shrinking bank account, and no idea of what I was going to be doing to survive there. For the first 2 months I stayed on my friend's mother's sofa.. on the European side of the Bosphorus. During the days, I meandered through the ancient city and found a multitude of ways to entertain myself on a budget of just pennies a day.
The public transport ferry across the Bosphorus was a relaxing way to take a long view at one of the most breath-taking skylines of any city on Earth. If I needed a bit of caffeine, I would walk to the Grand Bazaar and browse through the carpet shops. It would only be a moment before one of the shop keepers would invite this complete stranger in for tea and biscuits at the back of the shop. Of course this was a sales tactic, but even though it always became instantly clear I was not buying a carpet, a second round of tea would still be poured and there was always nice conversation that would only end after my second cup of highly caffeinated turkish tea, and the inability to sit still any longer.
Around my third month in Istanbul, my friend took me to a house party in an amazing penthouse apartment, right on the Bosphorus river, with an amazing view of the Blue Mosque over the oldest part of the city. This party continued quite late.. so I went to sleep the guest bedroom. I woke up the next morning and everyone was gone.. even the owner.. so I just started cleaning up the apartment as there was still a mess about from the party the previous night.
Somehow, I lived in that apartment for the next 9 months.
I think that maybe my friend had put the deal together for me to stay there to get me out of his mother's house.. but the fact is, I never asked if I could stay.. and the owner never questioned why I had suddenly moved in (his English was very limited).. So every morning when I woke up, I cleaned the apartment. In return I had a bed to sleep in.. and occasionally the owner gave me a bit of cash to go out and have some fun.
I rarely needed to go out though. Almost every night there would be friends coming over and some sort of festivities, from mild to wild. In the morning I always had something to clean up, ashtrays to empty and dishes to wash.
Aside from the daily cleaning, I had nothing but free time. I was financially stuck, in a city I loved. Lots of time but no finances to do anything. The psychology of feeling financially trapped is a horrifying thing. It is hard to motivate yourself to keep going or to keep trying when you don't have the money to even catch the local bus. I could have been taking online classes or researching ways to get out of this trapped situation.. but the feeling of hopelessness had settled in and all I could do was accept that this is my life for the time being. My days were only filled with cleaning the apartment, sitting on the balcony and looking at the brilliantly turquoise Bosphorus, or walking the streets of Istanbul, exploring every street and alley until I had them memorized. If I wasn't walking the streets, I could sit on a bench on Istiklal Street or in Taksim Square, taking in some of the most spectacular people-watching on Earth.
Poor.. but so, so rich.
Almost a year to the day I arrived in Istanbul, one of my old online marketing clients contacted me to see if I would like a little work. I used that money to move to Bangkok.. which was a challenge, and a chance to learn humility on a whole different level.
Istanbul will always be a gem to me.. sometimes rough, sometimes polished, mostly beyond my budget.. but I adore it still. It is because of this year in Istanbul that I can firmly tell anyone that says all Muslims are evil and want to kill all Americas, that they are completely full of shit. In all of my time in Istanbul, and in every Middle Eastern country I have been to since (Afghanistan, Oman, Qatar, UAE), the people I met have never been anything other than kind and extremely generous.
April 15.. I get to spend a few days in my bohemian home of one-year.. ISTANBUL.. then begin my journey through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, brief stop in Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Faroe Islands, and Norway.
I feel like I am about to spend a few days with my ex.smile emoticon

TRAVEL: Meeting Places and Exploring People

When I was younger, around three or four years old, farther back than I can remember, my mother asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. My answer was that 'I wanted to travel the world and meet people.' I do remember being extremely fascinated by photos in my early geography books showing children dressed in indigenous costumes, walking alongside farm animals on muddy paths in an extremely rural part of some random country. From the point of view of a child that had never left the suburban neighborhood of South Florida, the images in those photos could have easily been from another planet.. and they seemed absolutely magical.
Aside from regular trips upstate to Disney World and to visit relatives in St. Augustine, my family never really had the opportunity or reason to leave Florida. At the age of 17 when I left for the Marine Corps, I had still never seen a mountain or even a hill any larger than a speed bump. Florida is quite flat, thanks to some meandering icebergs that bulldozed their way through the region many million years ago. I had never seen snow or felt an earthquake, and aside from the historical old-town in St. Augustine, I had not seen many buildings more than even 100 years old.
I am not saying anyone should deprive their kids of any opportunity for cultural experiences, but I strongly believe that the first two decades of my life, that I spent dreaming of mountains, castles, snow and foreign lands, instilled in me a passion for exploration and adventure that I will never be able to satiate. I absolutely love the fact that I have so much passion to see the world and to experience every type of culture, and I don't know if it would be the same if I had been overexposed to all of these experiences in my early youth.
When I left for the Marines, I got it guaranteed that I would travel as far as possible... and I couldn't think of anything farther away than Japan. Since then I have made so many mistakes and indulged myself with at least a decade's worth of self-destructive antics.. but the thing that always pulled me out the other side was realizing, once again each time, that there is a whole lot of the world I still need to see.. so I needed to get my act together.
Now, even though I have been actively traveling and living (sometimes barely) on several different continents since 2005, I still feel like I have barely gotten started. Last summer was a game changer though.
Last summer I left for a summer of hiking through Scotland, Spain .. and the rest was up in the air after that but I ended up attending a wedding and then hiking through Wales. For decades I envisioned this trip. Images in my mind of long, gorgeous walks through the the Highlands. Strolling down dirt paths with rays of light filtering through overhead leaves. Breathing the foreign air and enraptured in the mere fact that I was living out the adventures of my long-anticipated dreams.
In Scotland I saw some of the most magnificent mountains. Bigger and more majestic than I had even imagined. In Spain I walked over 600 miles, completely immersed in many centuries of medieval history and architecture. In Wales, I saw lots of sheep.
When I think back on these journeys now though, it seems all of the things I had been looking forward to the most.. the mountains and beautiful scenic views.. where only background settings for the real experiences I was living.
When I think of Scotland, the first three things I remember is (1) how much pain I was in the first three days, walking with a massively overpacked rucksack, through the rain, through the mountains (2) slipping and falling face first into knee-deep, black, Scottish Highland mud (3) by chance, sharing the common area of a Hostel with a group of middle-aged Scottish ladies that called themselves the 'Bad Girls Club.' They brought with them a vibe of a tupperware party crossed with an all-girl biker gang.. and before I knew it I was drinking shots of Malibu rum with them and laughing until I had to retreat.
When I think of Spain the ONLY thing that comes to mind is the ragtag group of 12 or so random people I met and formed a family with. One year later and we have spoken to each other every single day, through a Facebook chat group. Every single photo I have of that epic journey reminds me of these dear friends, if they are in them or not.
When I remember Wales, I absolutely remember the sheep.. but I also remember the mother and son that took me on a spur-of-the-moment canoe trip on a stunning reservoir lake; the mayor of a historical village that met me at a pub and spoke at length and with passion about about how much he loved his town and the people that lived there; and the family that found out it was my birthday and surprised me with a small cake and some hastily purchased Wales souvenir trinkets for gifts.
As I get ready to put on my rucksack once again for a 5-month journey this summer, I am excited to experience a handful of countries I have never been to before. I am spending quite a bit of time researching a route that will let see as much as possible. But, no matter how much research I do, I now know that there is no sight or attraction on my journey that will mean as much to me as the people I will meet along the way.
It does seem oddly fulfilling that what I am doing now is exactly the random thing I told my mother I wanted to do at such an early age. "I WANT TO TRAVEL THE WORLD AND MEET PEOPLE." It really all just comes down to that.