Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Istanbul: Summer Holiday 2009

So, Istanbul was one of those "if you visit Greece, you should visit Turkey since they're so close" destinations. The cuisine of each country overlaps, but culturally, they are worlds apart. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

Although Turkey is secular, the majority of the country is Muslim. In fact, this is the first Muslim country I have visited. As such, TJ and I made a point to visit as many mosques as we could. Of course we visited the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia. Any self-respecting tourist has to see these two gems. But, see for yourself: the architecture and atmosphere of mosques is mysteriously beautiful.

It wasn't a mosque-centric adventure. We did go out and about and experience some of the nightlife in Istanbul. Two of TJ's colleagues, Johan and Cânâ, showed us around town and ensured we got a taste of the high life.

I'm dressed up a bit more than my usual vacation wear (shorts and t-shirt) for our dinner at Suada Club. Suada is a manmade island that sits just offshore in the Bosphorus River. You take a little ferry boat out to the club. In addition to Suada, we had dinner at Joke Perestroyka, Istanbul's current "it" restaurant, and drinks with the jet set at Anjelique. A mini-tour of these clubs is provided in the video below:

But, it wasn't all fancy clubs either. No, we got right into the thick of things at the bazaars. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar to be exact. While TJ did not care for haggling, I could have walked around those bazaars for hours.

And I practically did trying to find the right pair of Björn Borg underwear. That was my big purchase at the bazaars! I even convinced TJ to buy two pairs. Mainly since, I was able to negotiate the price down on the premise that I'd buy four pairs. TJ has long resisted the move to European-style underwear. Whereas I have embraced it. Is this TMI? But seriously, this underwear is over $30/pair here in Sweden!!! And I got my (probably fake) Björn Borg underwear for ~$6/pair. Damn, I'm a good negotiator. I tend to fight for those things that interest me. And commando-pattern underwear interests me. Ooops, TMI again.

I also bought some Turkish Delight. Um, the confection. They sold all kinds in all sizes. The blocks of Turkish Delight were huge in some cases. I preferred the bite-size pieces. With less nuts. Okay, all sugar. But, I did try some chocked with pistachio nuts.

And baklava. Did I mention baklava?

Honey and nuts never tasted so good together. We even visited a store that had ISO 9000-approved baklava. Tastes great and manufactured adhering to quality standards. The perfect combination.

I also went with Johan to a Turkish Bath and got the scrub, massage and wash treatment. It was a smaller bath, not one of the the big tourist draws. I was a bit apprehensive about being man-handled during the massage. I had read that they could be quite forceful. And, my back is a bit delicate. But, our big, sweaty, and hairy Turkish masseur didn't get too rough. How's that for a visual? It was so relaxing that I could have gone again the next day had I had the time.

But, there's never enough time to see and do everything that you want on vacation. You just have to enjoy the delights that you do get. For more photos of our trip to Istanbul, click here.

Lastly, I leave you with a tour of the Basilica Cistern and one of the many building in Topkapi Palace. The Cistern, dating from the 6th century, is the largest cistern beneath Istanbul.

Santorini: Summer Holiday 2009

I had heard the stories and read descriptions of sailing into the caldera in Santorini. But, second-hand accounts don't do justice to the experience. Seeing the towns with their blindingly white houses high up on the cliffs is an eye opener. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

This video shows us arriving by ferry. And also a day trip we took to Nea Kameni, the island in the center of the caldera.

After having blown off Santorini during my previous trip to Greece, I was finally here. Very exciting. But, not as exciting as the van ride from the port up to Fira. That was hair raising. I kept my eyes where they needed to be: on the rocks in the cliffs. The volcanic history of this island ensured some fascinating geology. At least to me. TJ, not so much.

Once we got settled in our hotel, we headed for Oia to see the sunset. Oia is pretty spectacular. Rebuilt on the cliff side after a 1956 earthquake sent nearly the entire town down into the water. We staked out our claim for choice viewing and let the sky, clouds and atmosphere take over.

Yes, I crush your picture perfect sunset!

We spent two nights watching the sunset at Oia. Both times as the sun faded out of sight, applause rose us from the crowd. Pretty freaking awesome. They applaud the sunset here!

As on Mykonos and Naxos, we rented an ATV for the day and headed out exploring other parts of the island. There was a beautiful red sand beach (like the one in Maui). And two black sand beaches. By this point in the trip, TJ and I had acquired quite a healthy tan. Is that an oxymoron? So, we stayed for awhile, tested the water, and moved on. As usual, we found some great gyros to snack on. And some pastries for me.

Fira is similar to Mykonos Town. But, not as geared toward clubs and late night craziness. Or maybe we just went back to the hotel before all that got started. Hmmm. Maybe.

During the day, the town buzzes with tourists in search of evil eye amulets, nodding donkey dolls, and other truly horrible gifts to remember their stay. I picked up a leather and twine bracelet. Reminds me of my early days living in Southern California. And at 3 euros, cheap.

At night, the crowds are still there shopping. And eating. And drinking. But, the town itself becomes the star. Lit up like a Christmas tree. Night and day in Fira are worlds apart.

Since Fira sits on a cliff, you have to do a little up and down to get from one part of town to the next. This usually is fairly benign. On the day we took a boat out into the caldera, we had to be at the old port. Which is located directly below the town. The way down wasn't too bad. Except for maneuvering around the donkeys. At certain points, they stood across all the steps. Move that ass!

On the way up, TJ noticed the numbers on the steps. At the top, we saw the sign indicating that there were over 500 steps from the old port to where we were.

This is me arriving at the top of the steps. Well worth the effort. We rewarded ourselves with lunch at our favorite restaurant, Santo Mythos. Nothing more than a simple gyro shop. But, they made the gyros just right. The shaved pieces of meat were crispy, yet juicy. The pita was crispy, soft on the inside, and glistening with oil. Santorini may have had less emphasis on seafood than Mykonos or Naxos, but they more than made up for it with traditional gyros.

And thus ended our Greek vacation. On to Turkey, where we could expect to find kebaps and baklava. Gastronomically, we weren't really going far.

For more photos of our trip to Santorini, click here.

Naxos: Summer Holiday 2009

Relaxing in Naxos. It's not hard to do. The crowds are much smaller on Naxos. There is no party all night atmosphere. In other words, it serves travelers who are a bit older. Like me. With less than 2 days to explore, we stuck close to the port in Naxos Town in the evening. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

But, we did rent an ATV and venture to some of the beaches to the South. The beaches so tranquil, the water, clear and warm. The beach below had its own church.

We found one little beach nestled underneath some cliffs and shared it with a total of six other people. We ended the day at Agios Prokopios. I snorkeled while TJ enjoyed a beer at a bar overlooking the beach. I later joined him for some tasty fried, fresh octopus.

Of course, this might be a little too fresh. But, it does highlight the fact that we ate some pretty damn good seafood on our march through the Greek Islands. The squid, cuttlefish, and octopus, in general, were superb. I'd be remiss if I forgot to mention that I found a favorite pastry here on Naxos: Galaktoboureko. It is layers of pastry filled with custard. Pure heaven.

For more photos of our trip to Naxos, click here.

The sunsets on Naxos were quite nice as well. We found a nice bar (Mojo) along the port in town that had the best view of sunset (with drinks). Here's a little taste.

Mykonos: Summer Holiday 2009

Mykonos. I have fond memories of Mykonos. When I arrived there for the first time in 1999, I had no set agenda. In fact, I had only planned to stay 4 days before moving on to Santorini. But having just come out, and being on an island filled with men from all over the world, I decided to stay a bit longer. At first, 8 days. Then, thirteen. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

Super Paradise, drag queens, amazing sunsets, and wandering around the narrow winding streets of Mykonos Town at night. Those were my memories then.

And those are my memories now.

This time around, we tried an alternative form of transportation: an ATV. Sure, you get quite an adventure taking the buses (which we did). And everyone seemed to have a scooter. But, then we started hearing the scooter accident stories. And seeing people with their arms in a sling or bandaged or bandaged in a sling. I admit to chickening out. So, an ATV was the compromise.

I saw so much more of the island than I was able to last time. And we got to wear these dorky helmets.

The nice thing about revisiting a place is re-experiencing the things you saw the last time. I found and photographed a church and a balcony arch that I had photographed on my first visit. Now, these images (with some new perspectives) are preserved digitally. And, I redid the walk from Paradise Beach to Super Paradise Beach. Last time, there was an indistinct path, but, it was well-traveled. This time around, there was a lot of development and a less-defined path. Sometimes, it's better not to revisit everything.

Of course, drinks along Little Venice never disappoint.

And watching sunsets never gets old. The sky just kept getting better every night. But, I'll let you be the judge.

Sunsets and cocktails. Now that is the end of a perfect day.

For more photos of our trip to Mykonos, click here.

Oh, I did mention drag queens, didn't I? Enjoy!

Athens: Summer Holiday 2009

I was in Athens 10 years ago. I had followed the advice from fellow travelers and decided to stay barely 24 hours in the city before heading on to the islands. I hopped a ferry from Brindisi, Italy to Patras, Greece. Then, caught a 2am train into the city arriving in the early morning. It was everything everyone had told me. A hot, dirty mess. I slept for a few hours and began to explore with my limited time. I climbed the Acropolis and toured through the National Archeological Museum (go there is you visit). But, I was glad to find myself the next morning on the docks at Piraeus waiting for a ferry to Mykonos. What a difference 10 years makes.

Athens is still a hot mess. A little less dirty. But, still a hot mess. It didn't help that seeing main attractions required us to walk to/from our hotel through Omonia Square. At night in this square, we walked past addicts with needles sticking of their arms. The subway comes in handy in times like these.

Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

The Athens I'll remember from this trip is all about architecture. Really old architecture. With really great light. There were some great little unexplored nuggets waiting to be found. Like the Temple of Hephaestus (above).

But, what was really nice was the opportunity to walk around the city at night. Lots of hustle and bustle in the main tourist area of Plaka. And some wonderful monuments that projected their former (and current) glory well. Walking beneath the Acropolis lit up at night on a quiet street away from the shopping and eating frenzy of Plaka is great therapy for erasing bad images of Athens.

The difference is like night and day. And the difference between walking around in daylight and at night is like, well, just watch the video.

Now, both of us ended up buying one of those gauzy, long-sleeved, white cotton shirts in Plaka. When in Greece...

For more photos along with descriptions of our trip to Athens, click here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Musik i Full Fart [Music at Full Speed] v5

A long overdue post of the music I've been listening to and highly recommend. Artist links will take you to an informational website (MySpace page, artist website, etc). Song links will take you to a video of the song.

Swedonia Songs
There is some really great pop music coming out of Sweden. The varied offspring of ABBA and Roxette keep forming new wondrous variations. I only wish my friends in the States had direct access to some/all of it. So, I'll do my part to enlighten and encourage.

Alphabeat's bouncy Fascination came out in 2008 but holds up well to global inspection even today. John ME has a yearning love song with the requisite reference to drugs, Love is My Drug, on which he duets with Amanda Jenssen (winner of Swedish Idol). At 3:05, it looks a lot like love. Another winner of Swedish Idol is Agnes Carlsson (or just Agnes). Her dancefloor hit, Release Me, is one of the best dance pop songs of 2009. YouTube seems to have pulled the video (since she has exploded on the music charts around the world), but you can watch it on her website. Another one of her songs, On and On, is more Eurodance but still lots of fun. Basic Element is a dance act from the 90's that re-emerged a few years ago. They are putting out blatant eurodance like Touch You Right Now. What's not to like about that? Then, there's Robyn. She's practically Swedish music royalty. Be Mine! is quirky pop. Very Robyn. Speaking of Swedish musical royalty, A Camp, the side group of Cardigan's lead singer, Nina Persson, released Stronger Than Jesus.

In spin class, I've gotten into the zone with some spirited music including Oh Laura with Release Me (Attic Remix) and Swingfly with Singing That Melody. Position 2, please.

Swedish acts are featured prominently in commercials. The Honeythieve's Reminder is used in television ads for Lindex. I love the global ad and the song for Magnum Temptation ice cream bars. Though, the music sounds a bit like the White Stripes. A DJ/music producer out of Stockholm creates sonic snippets for use in Cubus commercials. And I love them. Two ads, for Christmas and Summer, are the best. I think of them as my own personal soundtrack. I walk down the street and this music plays in my head. Try it. Oh, and the model in the commercials is Swedish supermodel, Mini Anden.

I'm a sucker for a good power ballad. I grew up in the 70's and 80's, so guilty as charged. When I heard Takida's Curly Sue, I knew I would like it in spite of myself. Why!?! And then there is my lone Swedish Alternative pick (cause Alphabeat is pop with a capital P), Mando Diao, with their Echo and Bunnymenesque song, Dance With Somebody.

Shena brings back the disco with her NuDisco gold, Can't Stop The Rain. David Guetta pairs up with Kelly Rowland for When Love Takes Over; this is the dance song of the Summer. And, yes, the Black-Eyed Pea's I Got A Feeling will compete with Guetta for song of the Summer. Hed Kandi continues to roll out (and rework) some great dance music including Warren Clark's Bitch is Back which features the aforementioned Shena on vocals. And Ali Payami's Dancin' which features vocals by Missum. She brings on the fun-K. Kraak & Smaak lay on the funk with Squeeze Me Tight. Utada is a Japanese-American who sings mainly pop who has had much more success in Japan. But, Automatic, Pt. II caught my attention. Sleek. Stylish. Tokyo at night. Laurent Wolf, French DJ/producer, has delivered with a followup to No Stress, again featuring Éric Carter: Wash My World. And finally a song from way back in 2007: Let Go by German DJ extraordinaire Paul van Dyk.

Moby's new release, Wait For Me, traverses one amazing sonicscape. Shot in the Back of the Head is sublime. When the weepy guitar comes in at 1:08, it's staggering. Pale Horses harkens back to Play quite nicely. Lily Allen actually wrote a song I like (Lily Allen = not so much). Normally, I think the whole Brits singing with a Brit accent a little much. But, this cheeky homage to a Carpenter's song, F*ck You is quite catchy. Diane Birch has some great pipes. Fortunately for me, she was featured on iTunes where I was exposed to Rise Up.

Adult Alternative
Seriously, I love Laura Izibor. This woman's voice has me hypnotized. She finally released an album with all the wonderful songs I'd heard before and some new favorites. This includes the quite lovely If Tonight is My Last. It puts a big smile on my face. Another new voice with promise is Angel Taylor with Make Me Believe. True, Yael Naim made her name by having her song, New Soul, included in an Apple commercial. Don't hold that against her. Instead, check out another single, Far Far, and enjoy.

A great voice not to be missed is Chrisette Michele with Blame it on Me.

Trip Hop
Tricky! He's back. Puppy Toy. Check it out.

Guilty Pleasures
I am not sure if these guys qualify as a guilty pleasure or the end of all things with taste as we know it. Star Pilots competed in Melodifestivalen 2009 with their song Higher. Needless to say they did not make it to Eurovision representing Sweden. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. So, where do I start? How about a contest? See how many song lyric cliches you can identify in this song. It is basically just a string of cliches set to a throbbing dance beat. Not as egregious and 100% eurodancepop is their other song In The Heat of The Night. Enjoy.

Archive Posts
Musik i Full Fart Volume I
Musik i Full Fart Volume II
Musik i Full Fart Volume III
Musik i Full Fart Volume IV