I’m working on it, I swear

Ah shit you guys, I’m a month behind! The three weeks of holiday time with Duncan were immediately followed by an amazing week in Beirut with friends visiting from home. Week two of Beirut is now well underway and my head is exploding as I try to understand Beirut or Lebanon or this region even a bit. Hah! Hah! The chips cluttering up my brain don’t help. Mmmmmmmchiiiiiips….

I’m working on catch up posts but between my overstimulated, cluttered brain and upcoming debut as a laundry bitch an important, if temporary addition to the crew, my posts might be a little thin. To distract you/set the tone/because I feel like it, here is a photo that is at once adorable and disgusting: a little kitten, asleep face first on its raw meat morsel in the souk of Saida, Lebanon. Isn’t that sweet? No? Have I hit a new low in blogging and food pictures? MAYBE SO.

Slightly more substantial and potentially less scattered posts coming, if I can ever upload photos at a reasonable speed.

 

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Casa: out of the ordinary

Being in Casablanca in my capacity as Official Tour Wife did yield some experiences more unique than those you read about on Casablanca travel sites:

1: Surprise trip to Rabat

I met Duncan at work one evening in the first week so we could go to the Ambassador’s residence for a shindig. I only heard that it would take more than an hour to get there as I walked to the shuttle. And only found out it was actually in Rabat once we were hurtling down the highway. It makes sense, of course, since that’s the capital n’all. And it didn’t really matter to me, since my plans for the next day were non-existent.

However, the length of the trip undoubtedly contributed to the fairly small contingent that went (especially as compared with the last such function we attended). Our small numbers made it all but impossible to avoid small chat with the various officials, expats, etc. in attendance. I shuddered every time someone came over to us. I’m not an artist! Or even employed by the company! You don’t want to talk to me! Since the floor refused to swallow me up I concentrated on alternately cramming my mouth with canapés and smiling by Duncan’s side to make up for my lack of interesting, show-related stories to tell.

Until I met a couple of Official Wives who had their own stories about “following” their partners around. Awesome stories and kickass ladies, who put me at ease – but whose level of kickass-ness far exceeds my own. R actually challenged me to transform into one of them within a month. I responded by grabbing another custard from a nearby tray and sending Duncan for more wine.

Partying with snakes:

The show marked a major milestone while in Casablanca so there was a party planned for the middle Sunday evening (before the two days off when we went to Fes). Again, I didn’t know what to expect – especially since my work parties tend to be boardroom potlucks. This was pretty damn far from that, taking place in a Moroccan mansion where a large band had a frenetic jam session for 20 minutes to announce the arrival of each shuttle bus.

There was a huge spread of food, shisha pipes, do-it-yourself barbeque meat and a whole backyard of entertainment featuring snake charmers, fortune tellers and – naturally – ponies. What can I say? It was kind of hilarious and slightly weird. Fun? Definitely.

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Casa: by the book

OK, actually by the website. Travel website, that is. I’ve found that, by and large, this town lived up to much of what I’ve read about it: it’s a bit meh for the traveller, though the huge (third largest in the world) Hassan II Mosque is worth a visit and you could spend some time wandering the town. La Corniche (where we were staying) is basically a tired strip of somewhat rundown beach clubs. If you’re into being somewhere that bears more similarities to Miami or the Jersey Shore than most of Morocco it could be the place for you! Basically, there is a striking mix of some nicely kept public spaces and signs of wealth that come with being the nation’s commercial capital, and crumbling infrastructure and bleak shanty towns around the city’s edges.

There are some really nice people alongside plenty of opportunities to feel like you really have no idea what the hell is going on. Especially when you’re in one of the ubiquitous “petit taxis“. These tiny red cars are in varying states of disrepair and the drivers are masters of creating their own lane and finding other passengers who are going in the same direction so they can maximize their fare. Everyone pays the full amount for their ride, it seems, except that some drivers reset the meter when a new passenger gets in. We tried to figure what exactly is “supposed to happen” on our return from the Casa train station but ended up in an argument on the street with the cab driver. Whoops. Don’t worry, we paid him. And don’t get me wrong, some of the friendliest people we encountered were taxi drivers. How else would I have found out that the King was in town, and actually praying in the Hassan II mosque when we drove by Friday at midday?

Most travel forums suggest you spend the least amount of time possible in your Moroccan trip in Casablanca. Oh well: we had two weeks there (first two of April), blissfully broken up by our trip to Fes.  Could I have tried harder to “get” the city? No doubt. Obviously you get out what you put in when you travel. I didn’t put much into Casablanca so I can’t really whine about my time there. I blame my laziness partly on feeling pretty wiped out when we got here and partly on my efforts to save money – which turned out to be harder than anticipated.

Duncan, on the other hand, “put in” a ton when it came to work. Ask him to fill you in sometime, as I try to avoid blogging about his job in any kind of detail. I’ll just say that after his first two days of work he practically begged me to do nothing on his day off. I dragged him to the mosque and we poked around the edges of downtown instead. Such a supportive wife.

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Tour Break: Istanbul and The Sickness

We spent the end of March in Istanbul. Holy crap I loved it, even if I only got a tiny, teasing flavour of the city while knocking off some of the major sights – Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, cistern, grand bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower… a boat cruise on the Bosporus. Like in Cappadocia, I found the people generally to be really warm – not just those in the hospitality/service industry. There was a guy who offered to make change for us for the tram, for example, when the newsstand couldn’t. And needless to say, we ate some good and some awesome food.

I’m reasonably happy with what we saw and did, especially considering that I fell down with The Sickness. Not as sick as Shanghai, but sick nonetheless. It started with feeling a bit gross one night after dinner which led to a revolting bathroom run at 2:00 a.m. – with a detour to the kitchen to fetch a pot. Yeulch. Fun fact: I could describe to you in great detail the last three times I’ve thrown up in my life. I won’t (you’re welcome!); it’s enough for you to know that since it’s a rare occasion I’m not exactly the best patient.

Luckily for me, I have a very understanding husband who dispensed an excellent mix of TLC (“I found you a popsicle and got you bitter lemon, dear”) and tough love (“Please, like you’re the first person to ever throw up and shit at the same time”).  Unfortunately for him (or maybe fortunately, since it minimized my complaining), I slept for 18 hours. There was a point around 3:00 p.m. when I thought I might be up for going to Hagia Sofia, but bathing and clothing myself was so exhausting that I went back to bed.

In any case, I was sufficiently recovered 30 hours after it began to resume the sightseeing, even if I didn’t really resume eating normal meals until Casablanca. I was convinced I must have eaten something off, until Duncan complained of a weird stomach the morning of our boat cruise – our last day in Istanbul – followed by basically the same Sickness on fast forward. As mentioned, he’s a much better patient than I, so he survived the epic transfer to Casablanca with aplomb.

It was a shame to be miserable somewhere so awesome. Suppose I’ll have to make a return trip.

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Tour Break: Cappadocia

After filling up on ruins and tasty chicken in Athens we were off to Cappadocia, Turkey where we gorged on fairy chimneys, pide, kebab, and lentil soup. This was March 24 – 27, by the way.

I’ve already described our arrival. Things just kept getting more awesome from there. The landscape is as bizarre as it looks in pictures. Volcanic activity + erosion = dusty fairy chimneys of various shapes and sizes and into which people carved all kinds of cave homes, castles, churches, even full underground cities where Christians and others used to hide out from their enemies (and/or winter).

It was deliciously quiet and calm in Goreme which made the early morning call to prayer pretty spectacular – incredibly loud, seemingly quite long (especially when compared with the call(s) we would hear later that week in Istanbul). It also had a built-in snooze; there would be a pause that would almost let you go back to sleep… but not quite. This early wake up call, tons of cool fresh air and very little going on at night all contributed to geriatric bedtime. Especially on day one, when we couldn’t stay awake past 21:30. We finally hit vacation mode: sleep when you’re tired! Get up when you’re not!

We had only two full days to explore but it worked out perfectly. Ol’ Wilson trundled us around to a lot of the main sites with ease since there was plenty to see and do within a short drive – from the interesting (but not my favourite) Goreme Open Air Museum (lots of old churches and a disappointing audio guide), to Uchisar (see castle link above!) to the Kaymakli underground city. Good thing I had my trusty navigator husband at the helm, however, as the available maps were useless. All the more so in my hands – to quote myself when Duncan realized that we missed a turn: “sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, I was looking at the chickens.” Take a road trip with me, folks, I’ll never steer you wrong! Except when I’m looking at chickens, of course.

We actually did all of the sites listed above on day one (and more!), making us even more chilled out on day two. We passed our time that day exploring the Zelve archaeological area (some people lived there until the 1950s!!), cruising over to neighbouring towns, and chilling in Goreme cafes. Eating, obviously. We could have struck out on a longer walk in the valleys, but it was a tad cool and, well, we were feeling vactiony and like drinking tea and reading. That didn’t prevent us from getting sunburned faces, however. Oh hello sunscreen two years past your expiry date! Weird how you don’t do anything to protect my fair skin!

Do I need to mention that the people were super nice? They were. Sure, some sales pitches… but they were super-extra soft (a failed carpet sales pitch quickly turned into a chat about how young Canadians marry, as compared to Europeans… or something). There was also a joke-y, kind guy at the hotel who served breakfast in the morning. And the breakfast! No pictures, sadly. Egg, olives (for Duncan), bread and cake, homemade jam, havla, tomato and cucumber zomg. The food available in town was also delicious. Like, super yum.

It was one of those precious holidays when you decide to “drive over there and look at that!” and “that” is, without fail, awesome, surprising and unlike anything you’ve seen before.

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My First Marathon

Remember how I mentioned that I ran a race? Here, finally, is a post about my triumph experience.

Background

You need to understand that I’m not a runner. Not at all. Duncan, on the other hand, has become one since joining the tour (remember that half marathon back in Auckland?). Well, truth be told, he has rediscovered that he’s a runner. He used to play soccer and was (OBVIOUSLY) a champion orienteerer in his youth.

I, on the other hand, hate running. Likely because I stink at it and have no patience to get better at it when there are tons of other ways to exercise. Nevermind that my track record of actually engaging in these “other ways” is spotty at best. However, with Duncan running several times a week and the majority of my friends also runners of some description, I finally looked up a self-guided, “learn to run” program last fall. I also booked myself a podiatrist appointment, since my feet always hurt and I figured it was time to get orthotics or something.

God bless my kind, gentle, very senior podiatrist who looked me straight in the eye while holding my bare feet and implored me not to take up running. “These feet are not made for running“, he impressed upon me with the full weight of his decades of experience with people’s feet.

I’m sorry, are you putting me under doctor’s orders to avoid running? NO FREAKIN’ PROBLEM. Best. Excuse. Ever.

Then One Day in Rome…

The Rome Marathon just happened to be on the tour’s final day in Rome. In the lead-up to Rome I had heard some of Duncan’s running buddies bemoaning their inability, due to work schedules, to do the race. There was, however, a 4K that might be possible. M&R mentioned it to me, stressing that it would be super fun, super low-key. I said I’d at least come meet them at the finish line to take in the atmosphere. You know, doctor’s orders n’all.

I idly checked my phone the next day while munching on pizza outside, only to find an hours-old text from R:

R (8:30 a.m.): “we’re signing you up for the 4K, ok?”

me (2:00 p.m.): “did this happen?”

R (2:05 p.m.): “Yep. We have your race kit and t-shirt”

Well shit. So much for doctor’s orders. I immediately started Planning. Should I actually run any of it? I need a playlist! I don’t have proper running clothes!! Duncan dutifully rolled his eyes.

I calmed down considerably when I read about the 4K on the marathon’s official website. More so when I saw the pictures and realized that what M had said about it being so crowded we probably wouldn’t be able to run was true. Ridiculous numbers show up for this fun run. Definite emphasis on the fun.

Race Day

I was the extreme odd one out in our little group of four (M&R, and V) – two did the full marathon in Auckland, one did the half. All of them had proper running gear, in sharp contrast to me actually wearing the free tshirt and long, too-heavy pants. And sporting a backpack. Hey man, I was promised a fun run involving little actual running!

At first there wasn’t any. Just a perfectly sunny morning and an amazingly crowded scene all around the Colosseum with the real marathoners starting from one area and the fun runners herding into place for our later, far less regimented start.

Thousands and thousands of people turned up for the fun run. Families, dogs, running groups… it was one of those scenes that actually makes you feel pretty okay about humanity; that this many people can congregate to do something fun. The marathoners, on the other hand, kind of make me wonder what’s wrong with humanity and why so many people love to torture themselves.

By the way, the race mascot bore a striking resemblance to my favourite late night German puppet. Did I ever mention that we figured out the deal with that thing when we saw it yet again a few weeks later? It’s a depressive loaf of bread and the mascot for a children’s TV station. Obviously.

ANYWAY, when the fun run actually began we were content to walk with the crowd, taking in the bands, the dogs, the sights, the frigging “being-there-ness” of it all. Well, I was. The Real Runners sort of/mostly were. But slowly, they lost patience. It was agreed they would run at least for a while, weaving in and around crowds like many others were doing. OK no problem, I can run a bit. A short bit. A very, very short bit.

The sun was suddenly a lot hotter and the gentle inclines quickly turned into huge mountains. God bless M, she stayed with me even when I implored her just to carry on and run, as I didn’t want to ruin her fun. She refused, however, and scuffle-walked with me to the bitter end (where we found R and V patiently waiting).

It was still fun, to scuffle-walk amidst the crowds with nuns watching and the Colosseum slowly coming back into our sights. It was extremely unfun to be outfitted so poorly, and, well, to be so NOT IN RUNNING SHAPE. It almost sparked my competitive spirit enough to flout my doctor’s orders and take up running.

Almost, but not quite.

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Get a load of these lemons

Duncan had to interrupt me one day a number of weeks ago to point out that I was getting fully ensconced in the tour’s rhythms: I was telling the passage of time by what city I had been in when something happened. The exact dates are extra un-meaningful to a professional layabout like me. Knowing what city I was in when something happened lets me place it in my current trajectory.

And so: it was back in Bratislava that they announced the cancellation of two weeks of work that were supposed to follow Casablanca, creating a three week tour break we hadn’t counted on. You’d think our reaction would have been excitement. Instead it threw us into a bit of a tailspin – when Duncan’s on break he’s not getting paid. We went through a variety of options, none of which seemed super appealing as we’d counted on a certain number of weeks of work back when we planned this whole adventure.

However. I’m not clambering to go back to work early. There’s the whole, once in a lifetime opportunity element to this adventure, unexpected twists and turns and all. And so we sucked it up and decided to go to Southeast Asia. Because when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right? We leave tomorrow.

Before you leave a snide comment, dude, please. I know. This is more like expecting a chocolate cake in a hotel and getting a curry and a mango shake on a beach instead. I’m just sayin’, this wasn’t the original plan, it surprised us, but goddamn it we’re going to make the most of it.

We land in Bangkok for a few days, hope to visit Angkor Wat, and then plan to head south to some Thai islands for nature + beach + relax time. True to form on this tour, we’re going at a time of year that’s not highly recommended: we can expect extreme heat and the islands we want to hit up will likely be coming into the wet season. Oh well. We’ve shaved Duncan’s head. I found some shorts. We’ll sweat. We’ll get wet. SUFFERING.

I was lucky enough to visit some of these places almost eight years ago; it will be amazing to go back with my husband in tow so that we can discover new stuff and so I can introduce him to the art of inverse parabalization (aka hammock time).

And if I’ve managed to figure out teh intertubes, there should be a steady flow of posts over the next three weeks to clear out the backlog of the March tour break and Casablanca. Maybe I’ll post from the road too… but don’t hold your breath. Inverse parabalization takes a lot of dedication and focus.

November 2003, Southern Thailand. See ya again soon!

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Fes-tastic

We interrupt our regularly-scheduled tour break catch-up blog posts to bring you this post about Fes, the most fascinating, bewildering place I’ve been to since… well… ever? Certainly a long time. In fact, I almost titled this post “bewildered”, since that’s how I felt for the majority of the time that I spent there.

Everyone had Monday and Tuesday off this week, which was a Godsend given that Casablahnca is, well, kinda blah. And that the work – for them what works – has been… challenging. From what I could gather from intertubes and word around the tour, Fes would be well worth the trip. So in between eating chips, knitting, and researching upcoming travel I managed to find time last week to pre-purchase our train tickets (3.5 hour ride), and find us a Riad in the Fes medina. Really, I don’t know how I do it.

For those who don’t know, according to the trusty, always-the-first-google-result Wikipedia entry about the city, the medina in the old, walled section of Fes is “believed to be the world’s largest contiguous car-free urban area”.  More than one travel site compares the medina to Jeruselem.

Since we would have approximately and exactly 26 hours in Fes, including sleeping time, the four of us (we travelled with M&R, of side trips to Mont Blanc, San Sebastian, and St. Emilion fame) agreed that we would spend the time wandering the medina. Which is what we did. It was amazing. Overwhelming. The walls are too high to see over, the streets incredibly narrow, and they all quickly begin to look the same, at least to me – especially Monday evening, as the shops closed and so did some of the doors to some of the streets, removing anything resembling a landmark.

Accordingly, I felt lost approximately 90%-95% of the time (up from my usual 45-50% of the time). Duncan, on the other hand, actually managed to get us back to our Riad for the night on Monday once he got a view from our rooftop restaurant to re-situate himself, officially solidifying his reputation as the most amazing navigator ever. We would have gotten back without him, of course, as the minute you look at all confused someone will materialize, seemingly out of nowhere, to help you find your way – for a fee, of course. With varying levels of assertiveness. And at dinner/lunch time, there is suddenly no shortage of restaurants (“just 10 metres! this way, please!”) to which you can also be taken.

That said, the vibe was generally really good – we did follow first one guy, then another on Monday night and wound up eating tasty food on a rooftop. There was definitely a combo of tourist-orientation and “yeah, I live and work here what are you looking at, idiot” kind of feel. While dude A is thrusting a leather camel into your hand and suddenly willing to accept your significantly-lower price, dude B is just trying to bring his goats through, or that guy over there is about to kill that chicken. And I’m not sure what the older dude perched in that… doorway? porch? is doing.

Being car-free, stuff is brought in via donkey or man-power. I eventually had to give up saying “watch your step” as we navigated around the donkey poop. And less-than even streets. Between watching your step at least sometimes and trying to look at what you’re walking by, it’s complete sensory overload. It smells alternately like bread (baking in the public ovens – families put different marks on their loaves and come back to get them later), delicious sweets, spices, a stable, etc. Sort of like in Istanbul, there seemed to be general sections amid the mayhem- we agreed at one point to go back to the corner of robes and shoes, for example, so we could accomplish one souvenir mission. But then again, we only really saw maybe 1/3 of the medina?

We got a guide for part of the time on Tuesday, so we wouldn’t miss the main “tourist” sights: the tanneries, the oldest, continually-operating university, Al-Karaouine, some medersas, etc. He was also great and while it ended up being a stop in lots of shops, I think that’s kinda what happens when you’re a tourist. And in fairness, they’re also fascinating. And it was very low pressure, soft-selling. Besides which, when Duncan fell behind at one point our guide simply asked “where is Belushi?” As in John Belushi. I think, anyway (as opposed to James). All I need now is to get him some wayfarers and send him on a mission from God…

Possibly the best moment happened as we left an excellent view point over Al-Karouine and the rest of the medina, which also just happened to be a massive carpet-selling shop/former Riad/cool building. We politely looked at some carpets before making it clear we weren’t interested. The seller really didn’t seem to mind, especially when we promised to send our friend next week – and besides, there were plenty of others in the place. As we made our way out, a grinning man with a tray of tea for another group of potential buyers passed us singing “Hello, I love you won’t you tell me your name!” We chuckled and continued out, which elicited a big grin and “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more no more…” to which the seller cried out as we stepped outside: “HE’S JOKING!!!”

Maybe you had to be there.

The truth is I don’t know how to describe it other than as a list of sights, sounds, smells, and interactions with people. I’ll cut myself off here and post some pictures. The only thing missing is the view from our Riad’s roof on Monday night where we watched a very huge moon rise over the medina, before slipping behind and then rising again above some clouds. Pure magic.

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Tour Break: Athens

There’s not a lot going on this week so more than caught up, I should have a bunch of navel-gazing posts ready to go over the next few weeks. And yet I seem to have lost whatever small amount of blogging mojo I had.

So instead of a well-crafted series of themed tour break posts, y’all are going to get the same old “I went here and then I ate some stuff!” posts. Especially since the internet is painfully slow – I just waited three hours to upload the small number of photos you can peruse below. Hope you like them!

Anyway, for starters, we went to Athens! We ate some stuff! It was great!

Athens is hard on the head history-wise. As a city, it left me lukewarm. A beautiful setting, but the city itself (aside from the obviously-amazing main sites) seemed kinda meh, at least what we saw of it. It’s like they’re having some issues these days or something…

The people were generally quite nice, though, most especially the woman at one home cooking place who patiently translated the menu for us and then made recommendations, followed by the most amazing food ever. The guy we rented a small apartment from for our stay was also awesome, full of info about the area and where to find “Greek cooked food”.

Renting an apartment was one of our better life choices. Duncan cooked dinner a couple of nights, we watched a movie or two, did laundry. It was so nice to eat hot food without having a waiter circling with a bill! I didn’t even resent doing the dishes. It was also cheaper than most hotel options we found so you know, there’s that.

We crammed ourselves full of ancient history and ruins for three days, followed by a chilled out day on a suburban beach. I had a bit of a cold which slowed us down, perhaps, but all-in-all it was a pretty wicked trip. Democracy! Theatre! Plato! Socrates! Tzatiki! How can you go wrong? Be it resolved, however, that a return trip is most certainly required to hit up some Greek islands.

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Tour Break: Transfers

There were some truly amazing moments in our moving around during tour break, at least from a “memorable” perspective. Here are three standouts, ranked according to my own, shadowy system:

#3: Airport transfers, Istanbul

This one makes the cut in a genuine, “it was so nice!” kind of way. We rented an apartment in Istanbul, which was wicked on several counts, including that our “landlord” arranged a driver who picked us up at the airport and installed us in the apartment. The same guy took us out to the other airport four days later. I don’t usually think of myself as the private car kind of person, but Dunc gets reimbursed, so, well bend my privileged rubber arm.

The driver was exceedingly nice, like most Turkish people we encountered (not just those in the hospitality industry). We arrived at the airport grouchy, with a sore back (me), and generally a bit tired. Having a dude waiting with a sign with your name on it = easy! Even better when he also has a comfy, good-smelling van, Turkish delight, water, and a video about Istanbul to help pass the (very) long drive (“This bridge, very busy. Other bridge, busy, all the time, busy”). Every 20 minutes or so he’d check in with us: “Everything: OK?!” Yes. Yes it was okay. Even A++.

It was much the same on the way out from the apartment. We headed downstairs a few minutes early and he was already waiting for us, just as nice as before. If you’re headed to Istanbul, I will give you his contact info and you will also find everything: ok!!

#2: Istanbul to Casablanca

Awesome trip to the Istanbul airport aside, this epic journey is in close contention for the number one spot.

Where to start… well, Duncan had The Sickness (some kind of bug I gave him – more on that another time). Nothing about the journey was simple. Even check-in was aggravating, starring a desk agent who had apparently never dealt with people who were connecting through Cairo, since she vanished for 20 minutes to talk to a supervisor. We eventually got to our gate which was crammed and stifling, as pretty much every flight seemed to be delayed. My usually-furnace husband lay on the floor, zipped into his polar fleece and complaining of being cold. The airport’s lack of salty crackers (all he wanted) almost broke our no-chip resolve. Almost.

I think our relatively-short flight to Cairo took off around 1:00 a.m. or something. But with overnight-ness and time changes, I had basically no idea what time it was for the next 10 hours. All I know is that we had a 6.5 hour layover in the Cairo airport. Rather than let Egyptair arrange a transit visa for us so we could go stay at some hotel (apparently included in the cost of our ticket), Duncan wanted to just wait it out at the gate. Something about not wanting to leave our passports at the airport like the Egyptair folks said we would have to… I guess I can understand that.

So wait in the airport we did. Under the bright lights. With the extremely loud cleaning crew – I swear to God, there were six of them yukking it up JUST TO TORTURE ME. And frequent, blaring announcements. In very uncomfortable chairs, as we were locked out of the gate itself. The gate that had couches. COUCHES PEOPLE. Oh my God, I wanted a couch. Duncan stretched out on the floor but I suffered in a chair. Typical, I guess, of an airport stay but I am not the dirty 22-year-old backpacker I was once (see above re: privileged rubber arm).

Still, I must have dozed at some point(s), because suddenly the sun was up, a bunch of other travellers were praying, some kids were squealing, and they eventually opened the door to the gate about 45 minutes before departure. I think I got 15 minutes of couch time?

One more 5.5 hour flight! Yay! With strange movies playing and the world’s tallest man physically preventing me from putting my chair back. With his knees. Not on purpose; he was just big. Not sure how I managed to get an emergency exit row seat and he didn’t but my underslept persona is less than generous (see above re: cleaning staff clearly out to get me, not just trying to make their jobs fun). I took my leg room, thanks, and “suffered” in an upright seat. Again, I think I snoozed, because suddenly the flight was almost over.

By the time we arrived in Casablanca, Duncan was actually over the worst of the sickness somehow. Show off. The passport line took at least an hour, maybe 90 minutes, to process about 20 people. ?!?!?

The tour had arranged a pick-up service and sure enough there was a dude with a sign who ushered us out into the parking lot, through the pro-Palestinian demonstration at the airport doors (unclear if it was related to the recent marches as I can’t seem to find decent info about it). We waited about five or ten minutes, before we and the other two tour folk on our flight were split up to take different cars.

Unfortunately, we got the guy who had a key that was definitely not for the car he was sent to. And then the rain started.

We were herded under an awning while half a dozen dudes yelled at each other and on their cell phones and eventually we were taken with another dude to a little car and crammed in. The driver was actually really nice; he and Duncan chatted en Francais during the 30-40 minute drive while I semi-snoozed in the back seat.

Do I even need to mention that it took another 45 minutes to get a room once we landed at the hotel? It’s a long story (and I’ve been so brief thus far…) so let’s just say we were relieved when we finally got into the room about 20 hours after we left Istanbul. Not much to write home about (#firstworldproblems!!) but after so many hours of being upright I was ecstatic to find a comfy bed.

#1: Kayseri Airport to Goreme (Cappadocia region, Turkey)

While #2 almost wins for the sheer length and annoying-ness of it all, our experience landing into, renting a car at, and then making our way from Kayseri airport was definitely the most unique.

We landed in Kayseri around 5:00 p.m. and I was hoping for Duncan’s sake that we might be able to get our rental car and get to Goreme (about an hour’s drive) before the sun was totally down. Hah!

Our flight was domestic and we’d gotten our visas sorted in Istanbul. However, since our bags were checked straight through from Athens we had to pick them up off a luggage truck on the tarmac and physically walk them through the international arrivals terminal (which is basically one door over from the domestic one). When we got inside, we were greeted by 100-200 very senior Turkish women dressed all in white who all had water cooler jugs in special bags. My googling has failed me; I’m not sure what their scoop was.

We saw exactly three rental car desks inside, none of which lined up with the name on Duncan’s print out, so we went out into the crowd of around 300 cheering people waiting for the women, outside the airport. Some friendly security guys had to make a path for us and a few others to get through the crowd. They waved us over to the domestic arrivals door when we asked about car rentals.

Sure enough, some of the others found “car rental” dudes there holding signs with their name. No one for us, though, as the sun rapidly set behind the hills. We asked one of the guys with a sign about our rental company and he assured us that it was his friend, no problem. He then called his friend, and assured us that he was here, we just needed to wait.

Um, OK…

A few minutes later I took a look in the domestic terminal where yet more security guys tried to help. I seemed to be highly amusing though they did go to pains to help the Amusing Foreign Girl. Which was fine, if mildly patronizing. Once again, they called the company and reassured me that we just had to wait.

A minute later, a dude came running out of the jammed parking lot with Duncan’s name on a clip board and apologies for being late. He had a total baby face and yes, maybe, a slight gleam of used car salesman. He was also a mobile car rental desk – the rental agreement, the optional GPS, the credit card machine… all in his bag.

Doing the paperwork on the hood of the car while the 175-cars stuffed with the women and their families all tried to exit the tiny lot with the call to prayer as our soundtrack was, I think, my favourite part of the whole thing.

That's the GPS sitting on the hood while Dunc does the inspection with the rental guy

We finally hit the road, got gas (it was a pick-up/return empty situation. Weird!), and struck out for Goreme.

By the way, the car itself was some kind of Chevrolet station wagon, beat all to shit and with 120,000 km on it. I named it Ol’ Wilson.

Duncan being suitably bad ass with Ol' Wilson. Or "L'il ol' Willy" as he insisted on calling the car...

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate GPSs? I mean, yes, they’re useful. Sometimes. I’ve been known to refer to them as the Source of Marital Discord. Naturally, this had to be one of those nights when it was basically useless. After sending us on a wrong turn on the highway, we ended up on a partially-sealed back road (“continue on unnamed road for 3.7 miles…”) that led us through a tiny little village that seemed to be entirely shuttered. Except when a person would suddenly appear by the side of the road. “Or is that a driveway? Honey, I think this is a drop off!”

And then more back roads. Until eventually we got to Goreme, where of course the GPS has exactly one street and one hotel in its brain. Guess what? It wasn’t our hotel.

Thank God for iPhones. Needless to say, we didn’t use the GPS again, and our return to the Kayseri airport a few days later was decidedly less eventful.

Maybe we shoudla just rented a camel

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