5.22.2007

7.07.2006

The Trip Is Over! More Content To Come

Thanks for tuning in over the last month, we appreciate everyone taking time out of their days to see what we were doing with ours.

In case any of you don't know, Joe opted to return to Georgia for another two weeks to film a documentary about the murder of Sandro Girgvliani. Sandro and our Georgian friend Budzgu grew up together, the tragedy can be fully explained once Joe's video is finished and a web site is up. A certain Nini may also have something to do with Joe's return to Tbilisi. Joe's roadtripping it out to his new job in L.A. at the end of August.

Ryan is in New York City until the end of the week, purchasing work clothes, drinking Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and wandering the city aimlessly. He returns to Billings, Montana in a few days and will be off to begin work in London at the beginning of fall.

I returned to Minnesota on Wednesday after spending a few days in The City. I'm still in culture shock, but it feels good to be home. I'll be in the Twin Cities for two weeks and then I return to Europe, tough life! You can check out my continuing travels at Travel Blog Dot Org. After the trip it's reality time, and I plan to move to NYC to pursue a career in...something. Any ideas?

Over the next week or so I'll add pictures from our trip, each with a separate theme. Check back daily and leave those comments (we crave 'em).



Istanbul Airport in the very early morning of July the third.

7.01.2006

Synagogues, Churchs, and Mosques, Oh My!

Sofia, Bulgaria is a beautiful city rich with history. Many of the sites are sunken into the ground with age and offer a portal into a different time. Thursday we took a walking tour of the city with a guide from our fantastic hostel ("Hostel Mostel") and saw famous buildings and the many different places of worship for various religions. While the city offers beautiful ruins and Soviet relics, the real experience occurred within the confines of our hostel. After traveling for a few weeks, touristy ventures lose some of their appeal. The attractiveness isn't lost forever, you just want to do something else, like play chess with other travelers, swap stories, or maybe watch the World Cup. I'm never as awed as I feel I should be by beautiful site and landscapes anyway, people fascinate me to a far greater extent.

We met a whole slew of interesting travlers at the Hostel Mostel. There was Mike the friendly Australian Pharmacist living outside of London; Alex from Northfield, Minnesota (where my brother Mills and Sister Melley attend college) who received a grant to study graffiti in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa; The Texan who attended BC; and the incredible and humble Australian guy who had been riding his biycle for a year and a half (he started in Singapore). That's just a sampling of the interesting folks we encountered. Meeting all these people, I can't tell if it's a small world or a massive one.

Thursday night we gathered everyone we could and hit the Sophian nightlife. It's always interesting when you pay a cover to get into a club, and discover that the bartenders mysteriously have no change and you still have to pay to use the bathroom.

The following day we walked around a bit, but mainly just stuck around the common area of the hostel chatting with fellow travelers. It may sound like a bit of a waste, not taking full advantage of a rarely accessible foreign city, but I learned a different kind of knowledge from these people than I did walking around and taking in the city's history; it was well worth the sacrifice, not to mention a damn good time.

6.27.2006

The Sweetest Bribe of All

Greetings from Bulgaria!

We are currently in Varna, Bulgaria - a beautiful resort town on the water, "cosmopolitan" as the Lonely Planet guide suggests - I personally think it's downright Bulgarian, and I like it. We took a ferry from Odessa to Varna, and it lasted 9 hours. The black sea was beautiful, and stunning. As you look out the window, random ships would drift by as we would pass oil rigs protruding out of the surface of the water - all of this eclipsed by the gorgeous sunset from the west along the coasts of Romania.

But this blog isn't about that womanly sunset stuff. This is about what I had to do to leave Ukraine.

So we are in the Odessa port. We take out our passports and have to make it through Ukrainian customs before we can step onto our boat and head towards our amazing business class tickets. Now in the Ukrainian AIRPORT coming from Georgia we were given forms we needed to fill out for this day that we would leave Ukraine. Now me, half being careless and the other half knowing I am an American, kinda lost the form and couldn't find it. As Chase and Ryan went through the customs check point, run by a suave looking older Ukrainian man in a white policeman outfit, I was forced to find a spot on the ground and take out everything in my bag to look for the form.

Now, I knew the form wasn't there. I just didn't have it. I probably used it to roll it up and do lines of blow off of Ukrainian women's breasts. (sorry, I needed to say something falsely shocking to make sure you're still reading. Maybe that was really too shocking. I actually have no idea why I said that) But my point is that I didn't have the form and I thought I was screwed.

So I started sighing, flailing my arms, and feigned looking very, very sad in hopes they would be guilt tripped into letting me in. I mean I don't look like too much of a hardened criminal! (Even though it WAS funny that the aloof, underqualified metal detector lady inquired to Chase and Ryan as they were passing through the detector, "Weapons? Drugs? Smuggling?")

So the Ukrainian customs guy who looked like he just had a role on The Love Boat: Odessa, comes over to me, holding my passport in his hands.

"Listen. Duty free. Chocolates. Go now and no problem, okay?"

I didn't really know what he was talking about. Was he hungry for Chocolate? Was it a Forrest Gump quote lost in translation? Was he referring to the Academy Award Winning foreign film, Chocolat?

So I stand up and look confused. He points to the Duty Free store, 20 feet away and goes, "Buy it there!" and gave a huge smile. The two assistant customs agents, who were females, smiled conspiringly.

So I walked to the duty free store, laughing to myself that I was about to Bribe a Ukrainian Port Official with cholocates, and spent the three American dollars for the wares.

I go back to him, say, "Ahhhh do you have what I'm looking for", brandish the box of chocolates behind my back. At the same time, we exchanged the chocolates for the passport and winked at each other.

I bribed a Ukrainian customs agent to leave the country by buying nougat hocolates.

As I was leaving, the customs guy romantically gave the chocolates to the female assistants as they gleefully smiled with happiness. I probably am culpable for helping that older customs official get laid tonight... he's gonna be stampin' much more than passports! You know what I'm saying? You know what I'm-

Ok I need to stop now.

6.25.2006

Kiev, Ukraine Pictures

Pics from Kiev.


Our cabbie got frustrated with traffic, so he decided to drive on the sidewalk.


The elusive restaurant Barabon.


Protest about umm...something, along Kiev's main drag.


Monument in Independence Square indicating distance from Kiev to other major cities.


Church across from St. Sophia (forgot the name).


View of main building at St. Sophia.


Ryan and Joe overlooking Kiev from the tower at St. Sophia.


Dinner at Ukraine's version of T.G.I. Friday's with Joe's friend Katya and her friend.

Georgia Pictures

So we're at the Black Sea Backpackers Hostel in Odessa, and the generous staff has let us use their computer to upload some pics. Rather than insert older pictures into previous blogs, we're just posting them and splitting 'em up by country. Here's Georgia.


The luxurious streets of Batumi.


Sunset over Batumi port.


5th century Georgian Orthodox church halfway between Batumi and Tbilisi.


Translation: McDonald's.


Budzgu tossing Joe into the Mtkvari,"the river of shit."


Georgia has never been in the World Cup, so they do what any other country in their position would do, worship Brazil (cause hey, they're going to win).


Ryan and Budzgu overlooking the old capital of Georgia (we forgot the name).


Joe at some old church in Georgia.


One of many fine dining experiences.


Nini and Tatia on Chardini Street, Georgia's hip spot for young people.


We bought one of these and ate it.


We bought two of these ate them too.


Nini's sister Sophie treating us to dinner on a rooftop restaurant overlooking Tbilisi.


Budzgu and Sophie at Club Two Side.


Horrifying Soviet elevator in our apartment.


See previous.

Club Itaka in Odessa, Ukraine

Last night we headed out to Club Itaka in Arkadia, 10 minutes from Odessa. We went with the staff of our hostel and the three other guests from Greece. This was easily the craziest club scene I've ever witnessed; it looked like something that should be on the show "Wild On..." on E! Entertainment telveision. There were throngs of scantily clad beautiful women sporting sunglasses and attitudes. The place teemed with thousands and the DJ kept everyone dancing. The club itself is a massive Greek forum with stairs in the center and tables clustered about the surrounding areas; it's plopped right on the beach and you can see the water. There's not much of a dress code and the entrance fee is about 8 bucks.

We left at 7 am last night; the sun had been up for nearly 2 and a half hours. We're on our way back now. Check out the video.

Black Sea Backpackers Hostel

After arriving in Odessa at 11:30 in the evening, we needed a place to sleep and the sole hostel listed on the Internet was called the "Black Sea Backpackers Hostel;" sounds like a good fit for the three of us. We took a cab to 12 Deribasovskaya Street after Joe attempted to pronounce it several times and finally the cabbie caught on. It was quite dark out, and through an unmarked door and up three flights of stairs we finally found the place via the name written in chalk on the wall. A note tacked to the door indicated that the staff and owners were across the street at an Irish pub, but we didn't manage to find them. We bit the bullet and stayed at a decent hotel.

The next day we returned and found the Australian owners, managers, and a construction team. Now the lack of signage made sense; it just opened a week ago and is still a work in progress. The place is great, high ceilings, clean surroundings, and a great common room with a plasma tv. The friendly owners informed us that because of the construction we could stay for free, what a deal! There was a Greek couple staying in our room, who somewhat amazingly have done nearly the same trip around the Black Sea.

Last night, the owners and managers took us all out to Arcadia, the hip beach/club spot in Odessa; it was a total blast (see post). If you're ever in Odessa, stay at the Black Sea Backpackers Hostel.

6.23.2006

oh dessa, how beautiful you are

Greetings from an internet hostel in Odessa that resembles a futuristic spaceship with alien statues in the foyer.

The past 8 hours have been interesting. I remember visualizing what the trip from Kiev to Odessa would be like from my cozy dorm room senior year at Boston College. An antiquated Soviet train, a little beat up but sufficiently comfortable, and a speedy 8 hour delivery.

Imagine now "Carribean Cafe" minus the girls. Hell. We paid 30 dollars each to go in a minivan crammed with other Kiev locals to go eight hours on the beautiful highways of Ukraine. Okay, it wasn't that bad. We had the opportunity to experience life as many locals do. The minivan was pretty much a taxi where people got off an on freely. They crammed the minivan full of people, standing room only, like cattle. This one portly babushka kept cramming her hip fat into my knee and kept swearing at me in Russian. Ryan was so tall that when he had to stand for the trip, he put his head through the emergency window latch on the ceiling.

The trip got us here... it's now night time, dark out, and this city is like Gotham City, but with less English speaking people. I really don't know what else to say... ummm, time to find a hostel? And if we can't find one of those, I'm sure there's a wondrous local park full of heroin syringes awaiting our arrival.

:-)

yours truly,
Josophicus Sabalicious

6.22.2006

Chicken Kiev

This post is dedicated to Chicken Kiev.

I tried it last night, and it was delicious.

Thank you.

Hail Everyone

Yesterday we met up with Joe's Ukrainian friend Katya in front of the sole remaining statue of Lenin in Kiev. We were hungry, and it was the metro or a cab, so we opted for the latter. We glanced around and didn't see any cabs, but apparently that's not a problem here. Katya informed us that it's Ukranian tradition to get into any car, and if they're heading in your direction, there's your cab. We flagged down an old man in a Soviet ride from the seventies, moving some of his things in the backseat to make way for ourselves. The concept of catching a cab from anyone is amusing, especially when it's an old man going 15 mph the whole way. When in Kiev, check it out.

Kiev's Infamous Caribbean Club

So we heard about this bumping place called "The Caribbean Club" in Kiev where it was supposed to be good music and a fun place to hang out at night. We tried going in to nights ago, but I was wearing sandals, so that didn't work out too well.

Yesterday I met up with my friend Katya who I met in Prague. She is from Odessa and is in Kiev for a couple of days for business. We went out to eat and then she suggested we go to The Carribean Club for a little bailando. What a coincidence! Suggesting the same club we ventured to enter the night before! Sounds like a plan to me!

We then took a "cab" (basically, a Kiev strategy is to just hail any passing motorvehicle and anyone, yes ANYONE, will stop and drive you where you want to go for a couple of bucks. We ended up getting a 80 year old man with cataracts who was probably en route buying vegetables at the market for his 80 year old wife, Olga) and went to the club.

The Caribbean Club was Kiev-translated story of "Lolita". Our immediate observation was that there were many, many young female Ukrainians on the dance floor, while along the walls hundreds of older men, probably in their 30's 40's and 50's from backgrounds and ethnicities of multiple origins around the globe, creepily sat there and drooled over the dancefloor sight. It was really, really disgusting how these men, probably having rejected groom statuses for their mail-order brides, were subjected to having to be so desperate. But boy was it entertaining! Fat Mexican and Arab men approaching women half their age from behind on the dance floor was purely a sight to see.

Every 30 minutes there would be really awkward breaks were the bouncers, wearing black suits, would clear the floor and a skinny guy (the Ukrainian version of Screech from Saved by the Bell) would come out and MC and bring on the "first surprise of the night". He grabbed a woman, sat her in a chair, as a costume-clad Ukrainian bodybuilder put on an impromptu strip show. Unnecessarily setting off sparklers and doing cartwheels, the giant mass of viewers, forming a circle around the spectacle, stood there and stared. After it was over, everyone seamlessly went back to dancing - the girls in the center, and creepy Mexicans and Arabs from the sides.

30 minutes later, I was the one being dragged into the chair in the middle of the circle as some blond woman came out of no where and started dancing. I was convinced she was a transvestite. Quite possibly the most awkward moment of my life, I refuse to comment further.

So the rest of the night we kept on dancing, had a good time, and eventually started dancing with two girls who later gave us photos, saying they were professional Ukrainian singers, apparently the next "TaTu" (you remember them, right? Those Russian Lesbian 16 year olds that sang ALL THE THINGS YOU SAID ALL THE THINGS YOU SAID RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD!! It's my parents wedding song) This was immediately following an episode where Ryan was sitting on a chair, without a shirt on, successfully fighting off women left and right diving at him from all angles.

We ended up leaving at 4:30am. While looking for a cab, some guy approached us opening up his wallet and saying "police, police", probably trying to rob us. So blatantly a sad attempt, we laughed, made fun of his mom in English, and walked away. We headed back and called it a night.

Well that was interesting...

Father Don, if you're reading this, say a couple of confessions for me. Eastern Orthodox churches here are beautiful, but my confessions don't translate into Russian.

6.20.2006

Language

Before I went on this trip, I opened up my brown leather notebook and prepared myself. I was about to get on a plane for Istanbul Turkey with an amazing mechanism, devised to prevent us from encountering the darkest and most dangerous of lingual perils: simple conversational phrases in Turkish, Georgian, Russian, Bulgarian, and Romanian. These were simple phrases like "Hello" or "How are you" and most importantly "Where is the bathroom?"

Turkish didn't impress me so much. I got by by saying "I love you" in Turkish to random girls and cab drivers, so that wasn't so much of a marvel to me. Here in Ukraine, Russian isn't too difficult - I was a dork when I was 14 and memorized how to read the Cyrillic alphabet so my skills are mainly used at reading street signs and metro stops. My vocabulary of 27 words doesn't help much when people give blank stares when I constantly repeat the same phrase in russian: "Izvenitye, pajalusta, ya nye znayu gavarit' pa russki, gdye cafe?" (translation; excuse me, please, i dont know how to speak russian, but where is a cafe?)

But there is something so hilarious about encounters with the georgian langauge, of all languages, that I felt I should write a blog about it.

First let me say that I truly miss that country. I know I didn't write any blogs during my time there, probably because I was too busy having the time of my life with Budzgu (pardon Ryan Millikan's ignorant illiteracy... oh you know I'm just joshing my heterosexual life partner), NINI-POOH and company, but I wanted to give a little tutorial on the Georgian language.

As you know I fell in love with these Georgians in my experiences with Prague. I guess being a dork didn't escape me too much 8 years after attempting to learn Russian, so I went to the BC library and took out some books on the Georgian language. I got as far as memorizing how to read the alphabet, how to write it, and of course the quintessential component, how to say "I want to make love to a clown".

The language is arguably the most difficult in the world. It is a hybrid of Basque descendancy, with a twang of Arabic and what Millikan calls, "dude it sounds kinda Asian when the girls speak it". The alphabet and language is completely original, apparently arbitrarily devised by a king over a millenium ago. The symbols are meshed together in beautiful harmony - wavy and flowing in style. Okay that sounded really effeminate, but I guess I'm trying to say, in ebonics terminology, that "this shit lizzooks like da bizzomb!"

I can't really show you what it looks like, but I suggest going to www.wikipedia.org and looking at the entries for it. Trust me. Chase wrote the entry on it, so you'll have no problem.

The pronunciation itself is really difficult and daunting. It has pretty much every linquistic sound as english, so Georgians, with proper training, are able to pronounce everything we have, with the exception of "Th" as in "Seth".

Ok for no reason at all I will attempt to give a nonsensically, amateurish grammatical tutorial on this language:

G - for "G" they have two different sounds. One is a normal "G" as in "grape" and another like a "Gh" that kinda sounds like an "r" in French.
P - for "P" they have a normal "P" as in "Pinocchio" but another like "Ph" which is a bit softer and all Anglo words starting in "F" are automatically translated with the "Ph" symbol.
K - for K, there is three different types of sounds. One is "K" as in "Clandestine", another is a type of "K" sound you make with the back of your throat that is GLOTTALIZED, which is the equivalent to the second "c" in "carcus", where in english it is not pronounced, but instead in Georgian they make a crazy sound with their tongues on the sides of their mouths. And then the third, which is a "Q" sound with the back of their throat that sounds like a mix between a penguin swalling a Cue ball and the sound of chocking victims of Jean Claude Van Damme.
T- There is two letters for this... but I don't think you're paying attention anymore so I'm not going to bother explaining.

The most important aspect of the this language is the encounters of daily usage.
As mentioned before, "I want to make love to a clown" is "Minda Vizhimao Klontan". Note: Do not say this when inebriated on the Black Sea coast city of Batumi and you replace the word "Klontan" with "Police officer" when there is a Georgian cop ten feet in front of you. "Minda Vizhimao Klontan" is a perfect phrase, especially when it is the first and only thing you teach Ryan and Chase, and we say it so often it made Nini go out and make a custom-made T shirt that says the phrase in Georgian writing with a happy clown giving a peace sign. I was so tempted to wear it...

Another important line: "Ik ar Shemekho" Translation: Don't touch me there. We said this pretty much all the time, too, but actually made sense when a 8 year old begger attempted to pull my wallet and I yelled "IK AR SHEMEKHO" followed by the swift and decisive "Dakhvie" which means "F off". The kid got the message alright!

Another phrase is "Dagapsi" which is a dirty line meaning "He peed on me". This really had no relevance anywhere but I was amused seeing people's reactions when I would say it and hide behind someone else to make it look like they said it instead.

"Maimuni khar" means "you are a monkey". "Maimuni" can also be conveniently used in such previously mentioned phrases as "I want to make love to a monkey" or "Don't touch me there, monkey!"

Whenever you drink, in any toasting occasion, you say, "Sakartvelos Garmarjos". This means pretty much "Cheers to Georgia" which was great when I stood on a chair, holding an Ibex horn full of Georgian wine, with my arm wrapped through Budzgu's, and had a whole restaurant cheer along with me.

That pretty much wraps up the lesson.. there's a bunch of other things I learned but probably forgot. The language is one of the coolest, most challenging linguistic feats I've ever encountered. I took great honor in impressing Georgians with being able to write their names in Georgian... and of course that time I tried doing it to a table full of Georgian girls, that it made them so creeped out they asked for their check 5 minutes after ordering mint chocolate chip ice cream parfaits. Don't worry, they were delicious. The ice creams, I mean. We ate them because they were so afraid of us they left their frozen delectables untouched.

I'd like to thank you for listening to my rambles. Consider this Georgian tutorial a tribute to a culture of 4 million proud individuals that use that, it is safe to say, are the only 4 million people in the universe that are able to speak this language. On a serious note, my experiences in Georgia were some of the most poignant I'll ever have in my entire life, and all I have to thank are those special few (Budzgu, Nini, Tatia, Sophie) that truly fulfilled every meaning in the rumor I would hear time and time again that the famed and alleged "Georgian Hospitality" is the best in the entire world.

I already miss you guys.
SAKARTVELOS GARMARJOS

but most importantly

ik ar shemekho!

No Rock Goes Unturned Until We Find Barabon

When in Kiev, walk down the streets staring at a model every five minutes with a refreshing brew in hand and turn over every damn rock until you find Barabon, or so our night went. After discovering that our hostel was a joke, and that for 60 euro a night we could be renting a "wait until you see my apartment" flat, as the shady guy named Yeyellee implored over the phone, we took off in a taxi after the Ukrainian monsoon for our new home for a few days. The place is nice, and tommorow, if the social scene can rival that of Tbilisi Georgia, we will throw a pre-party, party, or after-party.

Now back to the turned rocks (or arches) of Baradon. We met a cool Canuck from Quebec last night and over a glass of Georgian wine (quite good, thanks Sophie) decided the Chernobyl Museum would be a cool adventure for this morning. After meeting up with his travel buddy for some breakfast we headed out for a museum about a senseless tragedy that altered the lives, amibitions, and futures of thousands. Nothing like another reminder of Soviet wrecklessness to brighten up the morning, right?

So the museum was cool, but we don't speak Russian or Ukrainian. But we ran into a stroke of luck when a very interesting and friendly Ukraine Peace Corps veteran who was nice enough to tranlate and arrange a video tour. The video tour provided a little more insight but still kept our curiosity anxiously in queue for the facts, the figures, and, for the love, some descriptive English.

Scott, the Peace Corps guy, definitely made our transition into Kiev a little smoother. And he introduced us to Barabon. Barabon is a awesome restaurant, a hole in the wall (or alley) type joint where a bunch of expats hang out. And this "word of mouth place," was definitely a nook.

We set out around 6 in the evening, groggy after an afternoon powernap and some world cup action, eager to see the heart of Kiev and explore our new neighborhood. I was willing to eat street food at this point, but Chase insisted that Barabon was the jump off.

So we set out, with a written street map in hand, to find Barabon. Two hours later, after Joe had approached several people saying in Russian, "excuse me, I don't speak Russian, but can you tell me where Barabon is?" and backtracking all over the busy Ukrainian street; after walking aimlessly for about an hour and then deciding that we were getting warmer and warmer; after looking right at the place and walking away because we figured Barabon would have a sign; after gazing at about 50 models and all thinking this was a dream; after two hard earned hours we found Barabon.

Joe and Chase were smart enough to order great meals. Unfortunately I love breakfast and ordered the British breakfast. Foul would be an understatement, and I have to eat that starting August for the next six months? No way. We ran into a bunch of great ex-pats as promised, had some great conversation, and unwinded after an interesting morning, a monsoon, and a quest for a bachelor pad. It's now 11:30 and time to hit the town. Watch out Kiev.

Goodbye Tbilisi, Hello Kiev

Yesterday evening we left Georgia sad to say goodbye, but excited to experience the new. We flew UM Airlines, which I termed "Useless Mechanics;" it actually stood for "Ukranian Mediterranean." I was terrified that the flight would be shot down by Chechen terrorists, or perhaps crash on its own accord. Of course, the flight was a breeze minus Ryan and I sitting in rigid seats in front of the exit row with no recline. A moment to remember: as the flight attendants began the drink service, Ryan wildly gesturing towards the Cognac saying "yes, yes," with the immaculate reply from the steward, "don't worry, we speak English." Ryan, the steward, and I all had a good laugh.

The plane landed and almost immediately Joe's bag broke out from underneath. Luckily, he was able to get a new one and we were on our way. Half the city's cab drivers followed us around outside the airport as we feighned English and made our way to the $2 bus to the city center. Those same Soviet style buildings littered the ring surrounding Kiev, although they appeared slightly less menacing and not quite so run-down as those in Tbilisi.

I'm reading "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer, and one of the main voices in the book is that of a Ukranian translator who sports some hilarious usage of the English language. I had opened the window in the back of the bus as I was reading, and the women in front of me looked uncomfortable so I shut it. She turned to me and said, "I'm very terribly afraid of drafts, thank yous much." It was surreal, but I suppose I did choose the book knowing I'd be in Ukraine.

After the bus dropped us off we got in a cab to our hostel and were promptly ripped off. We asked the cabbie how much to the hostel, and he said "meter, meter," so we obliged and got in. His meter was rigged, and the ten minute trip cost 180 Hryvnia ($45); it should have cost about 4 bucks. We wouldn't have paid, except that he was six two and looked like a skin head, and hey! you've got to get ripped off somewhere.

The International Youth Hostel Yaroslav was clean and accomodating, if not overpriced. We tossed our bags down and searched for some food, heading toward what we thought was the "fashionable part of town" (a phrase I'm enjoying more and more). It wasn't so fashionable, but we assumed it was the main drag, and I for one was severely disappointed. We watched Spain trump Tunisia, then headed back to the hostel. Before bed we enjoyed a glass of Georgian wine with a Canadian named Steve staying in the room adjecent to ours.

In the morning Steve the Canuck roused us from sleep and we all headed out for breakfast at a cheap but tasty cafeteria-style restaurant near our hostel. Then we made our way over to the Chernobyl museum. The museum was haunting; I almost felt like radiation was seeping into my bloodstream as a looked at the measly protective suits and pictures of the devastation. Unfortuantely everything was in Ukranian (or Russian...it's hard to tell), but we met a former Peace Corps participant named Scott who was stationed in Ukraine and back for a visit. Scott hailed from California and translated what the plump women in each room would tell us about the specifics of the disaster. Everyone thinks we understand what they're saying, even when Joe tells them in Russian, "we are Americans and don't speak Russian or Ukranian." Scott also gave us some tips on where to go and his favorite restaurant in Kiev, which we hunted for and finally found behind an iron gate, on a side alley down a set of unmarked stairs (more from Ryan on this). What we also found was the "fashionable" area of town, which is quite beautiful and filled with women who could grace the covers of magazines.

That's all for me, let us know you're reading and leave a comment by clicking on the "0/1/2/3/etc. comments" link at the bottom of each post.

6.16.2006

Boodzgoo

Georgian Translation: hairy one (or something of that sort)

When I first heard about George from Georgia it was in Joe's incredibly rank dorm room over a few glasses of brew. They had both attended an Eastern European Summer Program in Prague and managed to sky dive, rent cars, party, fight taxi drivers, and, in summary, become great friends. It sounded like they had the adventure of a lifetime, but over the course of a few days I've found out that is just a day in the life of Boodzgoo, our Georgian host.

Although I'm sure you will all see pictures he's a huge Georgian kid with a slight accent, a zest for life, and a ambition that far exceeds the dreams of most Georgians. And the kid is the craziest fucking driver I have ever witnessed (and coming from my skills behind the wheel that is a statement). After having what I thought were a few near death experiences during the first leg of our journey in Georgia, I soon found out that ignoring all traffic rules, telling police officers you despise them and their department, and parking however and wherever you wanted was the Georgian status quo.

At first is seemed like George was just like any other American kid, but after some time I realized the adversity he had experienced and bravely overcome was painfully intense. In the early 90's his family and him had to move out of their home after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent civil war. Snipers decided their roof was an ideal location (right next to the office of the President).

And I couldn't begin to imagine a place where heroin, not marijuana, was the easily accessible drug. After walking around enough the needles on the ground have become common place; I'm just happy I scored a pair of sneakers down in Soho before June 5th.
Joe had told me about boodzgoo's close friend, Sandro, dying a few months ago, but as I heard the details of the death the reality of the blatant corruption in these countries became quickly humanized.

After some words at a cafe with a local minister's brother, Sandro and his friend, under the instruction of the official, were kidnapped by bodyguards and tortured. Although Sandro's death wasn't intentional, the bodyguards are now in one of the "nicest" prisons and the ministry of the interior (or something like that), hasn't faced any consequences. Boodzgoo and his friends have weekly rallies, petitions, and demonstrations have the true perpetrators of their friend's death face justice.

And it seems as if cases like his aren't unique. But even in the presence of the missteps of this fledgling government, everything is better than Soviet occupation. Where everything "was completely gray, no color," intellects where shot, and life was dreary. It seems like everyone our age has some grandfather or great grandfather that was assasinated by the Russians.

Boodzgoo is easily the best host in the world. He immediately made us feel comfritable and welcome in such a strange place. Yesterday he took us to his summer home 45 minutes into the mountains, he found us a flat for our stay in the capital, and has showed us an amazing time. From the amazing meals, great drinks, and introductions to some of the more interesting people I've met in some time, I have no idea how I will ever return the generocity and hospitality he has selflessly showed us since the moment we stepped in the country.

As we leave for Kiev in a few days, I'm just hoping to keep in touch with a new friend and convince him to spend a good week in London this fall.

Tbilisi, Georgia; Pictures Added

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, we've been busy exploring this city and, well, sleeping in. Scroll down to the previous posts, I've added some pictures from Turkey. Georgia pictures are on the way, but it's tough to find an internet cafe that allows us to upload our photos.

Tbilisi is strange for a number of reasons. One approaches the city by car and notices the rolling hills that nestle the city in its ancient place. The unique Georgian alphabet dominates signs, businesses, and buildings, with the ocassional Russian or English making an appearance. The architecture is ugly; most residents live in large concrete apartment complexes from the era in which the Kremlin dictated politics and life in this country. The buildings get me the most. Still, there is beauty to be found in these buildings, not from asethics but perhaps because they allow me a glimpse of a time and place that I have never known and never will know. Most of the apartment complexes lack a first floor, meaning there is no lobby area, just an elevator one enters from outside. Maybe so people didn't have a place to congregate. We're staying in a flat owned by a friend of our Georgian friend; he's in Germany for the World Cup so we have the place to ourselves. The flat is in one of these old Soviet style buildings just described, and the elevator that requires coins for operation feels as if it could plunge to the bottom of the shaft at any given moment. I prefer the stairs, but we're on the twelfth floor.

Yesterday we visited the food market, where one can purchase all sorts of dead animals, cheeses, and produce. We bought a piglet for roughly $30, two wheels of good quality cheese for $10, and pounds of salad greens, cumcumbers, and tomatoes for a few bucks. The meat was all lying out, and Joe and I inquired to George if bird flu was present in Georgia; it is not. Still, I had the suspicion that I was contracting some sort of disease the whole time. The market is in the poorer side of town, away from where we spend most of our time. There is a drastic difference in the neighborhoods of Tbilisi.

In the more fashionable part of town, as quite a few Georgians have put it, there are beautiful outdoor cafe/bars that litter the streets. This is where Georgians go to see and be seen, and our Georgian friends here would stop every ten feet or so to kiss a friend (they do it on the left cheek here) and chit chat. Travelers from everywhere congregate in this area and people are friendly. You feel instantly transported to Western Europe. It's strange though, there's something patently false about the whole thing. Or maybe it's just because I don't expect such a string of nice outdoor cafes to exist in this country. Either way, it's a great street to hang out and people watch, but it's not an accurate representation of how most Georgians live. And even though it's the best part of town, a beer is still only $1.50.

The most striking aspect of Georgia and Tbilisi is the culture, of which I'm trying to spin my head around. It's male-dominated, but not overtly mysogynistic. It's tough to engage women (at least the ones we've met) on anything more than a superficial level. This may be due to barriers of language or the short period in which we have known people here, but it sticks out.

Georgians are fantastic hosts and extremely friendly people. Apparently guests are viewed as though sent from God, and we're treated that way. Joe's friend George, who I now call my good friend, has been absolutely fabulous to us. The hospitality is so overwelming that the thought ran through my mind that maybe this is like the movie Hostel, and we're being buttered up before we're sold to psychopaths that enjoy torturing Americans. Fortunately, that's not the case. I've learned much about being a good host and sharing, it's really an experience and something that has already changed me.

Georgians toast before every drink, so here's a toast to all you reading the blog: thanks for thinking of us and thanks for tuning in, more posts to come!

6.11.2006

Planes, Buses, and Cars: Istanbul to Batumi, Georgia

Friday night we pulled an all-nighter and took a cab to the Istanbul airport at five in the morning to catch our six o'clock Onus Air flight to Trabzon, Turkey. Word of advice to the frugal traveler, don't buy beer in the Istanbul airport; it cost 14 TYL (about 10 bucks).


The flight went off without a hitch and we landed in Trabzon at about 8. Upon arrival, people started shouting "taxi! taxi! taxi!" at us and we hopped in one. The cabbie took us to the bus station and we bought tickets to the Hopa, Turkey, near the border of Georgia. The sun beat down hot on us in a way I've never felt before as we napped next to the Black Sea. Trabzon is a bit of a dump; it just felt like a city with very little soul, maybe due to the bland architecture and the prevelance of shoddy little shops everywhere.

We got on the four hour bus ride, which proved to be uncomfortable. No worry though, we were excited to enter Georgia. The bus stopped in all the small towns to pick up and drop off people. Eastern Turkey is what one would expect out of a rural area in a fairly poor country, but the towns were flanked by gorgeous hills and the Black Sea. About three and a half hours into the trip, someone hurled a rock at the back of the bus, shattering the rear view window. Naturally, the three of us were sitting in the very back. None of us were hurt, but it was frightening as we discussed whether the rock was thrown because a Turk saw Americans sitting on the bus (we stick out like sore thumbs) or if it was just some rebellious teenager without a cause.

In Hopa, a shady man told us to follow him for a cab, and we did after briefly discussing whether or not he was planning on scamming us. We followed him and found ourselves in a minibus to the border.

The border between Turkey and Georgia is a strange place. It's nestled among beautiful surroundings but there are watchtowers and guards and empty buildings. We proceeded and got stamped to exit Turkey, then we talked to someone else and went through a gate. Walking alonside abandoned buildings circa Soviet times, it started raining and we hurried our way to the next checkpoint. We got in a "line" to have our passports reviewed and stamped; Georgians repeatedly cut us and we eventually figured out that it was every man for himself to try and get to the window. We enlisted Ryan (he's 6'4) and he got to the front with our passports.

Next we entered customs, easily the most hilariously backward step in the whole six point process of crossing the border. There was an x-ray machine that people put their bags through, although it wasn't on and no one was monitoring the screen. People simply shouted at the attendants until they left them through. The entire customs declaration was in Georgian, so we simply walked forward looking confused and mumbling English. The infamous mustached troll woman whom we've read about in other accounts of Turkey-Georgia border crossings was present, but she proved to be quite friendly and completely un troll-like, sans the mustache. She glanced in our bags and welcomed us to Georgia. The whole process took about half an hour and no one asked for bribes, which we were expecting to pay.

A few feet from the border, one can feel the difference between Turkey and Georgia. Turkey is tough to gauge, with its mixture of east and west, but much of the countryside has a very middle eatern feel. Any signs of middle east immediately disappear in Georgia, and one knows they're in a former Soviet state. We sat down in a cluster of cafes and shops and ordered beers and khachapuri, a traditonal Georgian delicacy consisting of bread and cheese. We ordered it because it was the only food Joe knew how to say in Georgian (no one spoke English), and it proved to be absolutely delicious. The waitress was nice and the meal and beers cost less than ten dollars. We waited for Joe's friend George (George from Georgia...har har) to pick us up, and just enjoyed the fact that we were in an amazing place where few Americans have ever been.

After eating and drinking and waiting for about an hour, an argument broke out in the cafe next to ours as a tall, thin, quite visibly drunk man started shouting at four large Russian looking men. They screamed at each other, then stopped and the thin man's wife tried to calm him down by giving him more beer. This was a bad idea. About fifteen minutes later, the thin man started yelling again and one of the fat Russians got up and punched him in the face. He hit him extremely hard, it was probably only the booze that kept the thin man conscious. His wife was hysterically screaming and the fight was coming closer to our table. We moved to the next table with some Georgians who bought us beers and welcomed us to the country. The fat Russian punched the thin man again, and started kicking him in the ribs and the temple. The wife pleaded with the fat man and he eventually stopped as the thin man and his wife stumbled off and went home.

The message was clear, welcome to Georgia! Don't fuck with anyone and you'll be fine.

Crazy Turkish Night (Part Two)

So the next night arrived, as what normally happens when the earth spins around so much that the sun is out of view, and we were going to meet up with Mike Cherkezian and Dan Fink. We had spent the whole day lounging around not doing really anything, and finally we had the opportunity to meet up with these cats. They had spent the last two weeks traveling throughout Turkey, and in their last night in Istanbul, we were going to meet up. So we see them in front of the blue mosque, we all shared our adventures together, and headed out.

We spent the time talking about our experiences and hung out in the room a bit laughing over how in the course of one day Dan negotiated a rug salesman to sell a rug for 600 dollars less, or how funny it was when in an open and wide plaza I snuck behind Mike, grabbed his bag, and started running, or how we would mess with a few of the thousands and thousands of Turkish beggars by saying that we cannot purchase their wares because it gives us extraordinarly terrible gonorrhea. They didn't udnderstand what that meant.

We hit up the town, and went out to a bar that featured a real relaxing, jazzy band. The band was just like the chill-out hostel, minus the hostel. There we met two Australians on their honeymoon who we hung out with the whole time. I developed a theory about Turks that night. Three truths exist.

1) They smoke lots of cigarettes
2) They could be friendlier
3) They dance really horribly.

In regards to number three, I thought they were having epiturkik seizures. Mike and I did our 40 second long handshake and put them all to shame.

It was late after the club, and we decided we might as well stay up all night because of our flight in the early morning to Trabzon. So on our way back, committed we were going to get Mike Cherkezian to pay for a hooker from a brothel, we strategically manipulated our way back to the Chill Out Hostel to walk back past the one that was down our street (this one by the way was a REAL one with many women hanging out of windows). When Mike realized what was going on he booked and we stood there laughing. Apparently there were pimps hanging around outside and they didn't like us standing there, so one of them took a giant brick and hurled it at us. We didn't know how to say, "Sorry" or "We are leaving now" in Turkish (and I certainly didn't want to say "Seni Seviyorum" or "Seni Dovmek Istiyorum") so we walked away laughing about the whole thing.

We then got some food, hung out a bit, and parted our separate ways. Mike, Dan, and Australians, we're thinking of you guys and we hope you enjoy the rest of YOUR adventures as you follow us on ours.

Crazy Turkish Night (Part One)

So we're chillin' in the hostel like rappers do after concerts, and we decide to go out, because that's what you do when you're on vacation. The girl nextdoor in our luxurious palace of a hostel was around and staying for the night before her voyage to Tel Aviv the next day for a summer program. Turns out she was a student at Columbia Law School and coincidentally good friends with Mike Cherkezian's sister (not the one previously mentioned, but trust us in saying she's hot too). Wait, Mike is probably reading this, I should stop.

So we all go out for the night and check out some places. We walked into a place that had dark tinted windows and some people inside. Remembering the last time we walked into a place like this, with fat women waiting to seduce us, I was a little reluctant. But I had no reason to be - this place was a Turkish karaoke bar.

We sat down in the corner and were visibly the only Americans in there. There were a good two dozen Turkish people our age standing around the microphone screaming out songs. Most of the songs were American, as we flipped through the karaoke book to decide what we wanted to sing. The Turkish people were joyfully belting out tunes that I used to dance to at proms.

For some reason we thought we should pick the songs with the fastest English lyrics possible.

Song 1: So the first event was Katie and I singing We Didn't Start the Fire. The Turkish people were more perplexed than anything. They sat at their table and patiently awaited a song they gave a damn about so they can get up and enjoy their night. So when we finished, they applauded, and got up to sing a Kylie Minogue song or something.

Song 2: So the screen then said "It's the End of the World by REM" and the Turks looked and all sad and sat down and waited for Chase and Ryan to be done.

Song 3: Chase and I decided to do Real Slim Shady next, and I rapped the whole thing spinning on my back and twirling the microphone over my head.

Song 4: Kylie Minogue's "Can't get you out of my head", and Chase was so not sober during this song then when you were supposed to sing "La La La" (you know what part I'm talking about) Chase yelled into the microphone "Allahu Akbar". Ryan's face looked very very horrified. But no one killed us.

At the end, when we were set to leave I wrote down the phrase I learned from the Turkish kids "Seni Seviyorum" (I love you) and gave it to one of the Turkish girls. She wrote back in English, "But I don't love you :)". So I used the other phrase I learned from the kids and wrote "Seni Dovmek Istiyorum" (I want to fight you) and all the Turks laughed happily and we took a photo together, symbolically mending the hatred they felt for us for unnecessarily choosing fast-lyric American songs, and called it a night.

Katie, if you're reading this we miss you! Good luck in Tel Aviv and let us know what the dilly is.

Saddam's Tailor

Shortly after talking to the Turkish children in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul we all went to the few sights around the area and grabbed some Kofte, or Turkish meatball, with a girl we had met a few hours ago prior along with the children.
Now I had been looking into getting some suits for the impending job and decided Istanbul would be the place to get it done. Being a religious BBC reader, I remembered an interesting bit about Saddam Hussein's tailor was based in Istanbul and tried to seek him out. Now Istanbul is a city of 10-20 million people and all I had was the district this guys shop was in: Laleli.
So, back to my Cairo days I wandered around aimlessly with a sheet of paper in hand with the word Cesur, the tailor, on it soon finding out that my Turkish was shoddy at best and it was actually pronounced, Jesoor.
After inquiring to several blank stairs, ambiguous finger pointing, and some reputable tips I findly made my way down the street and found Saddam's tailor, Recep Cesur. As I walked down the stairs into the small shop I knew I was in for an experience. About three men and a maid/attendant were sitting around table sipping coffee. One looked characteristically Turkish, one Pakistani, and the last Arab. The youngest was speaking a dialect of Arabic and had massive scarring on his face, I couldn't help but thinking he was from Iraq.
As the small talk continued Saddam's tailor came out, put down his prayer rug and put on a cap, and began to pray. Now I was definitely used to people praying around me after Egypt but I still felt invasive at best.
As I described what I was looking for I was immediately asked where I was from; they assumed England because I said I had read about them on the BBC. "America," I said, and it looked like their jaws hit the floor.
I was a little uneasy but kept my cool, looked through some fabrics and was measured. "Where do you work," they asked. "I will work at HSBC in a few months." The middle-aged guy translated to the head tailor, Recep, and they both smiled. I guess business was good.
The Saddam's tailor experience was a trip. When I head back to Istanbul I will go back, get fitted, and take a trip to their factory. I'm hoping its just business as usual.