The Heart of Turkey

Posted: August 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

The three of us, Chrystal, Phil and I, left Istanbul early in the morning trying to catch the first boat to Yallova. Unfortunately we got screwed over by a taxi driver and missed the ferry ride. It was already around noon when our virgin feet touched the new continent of Asia minor. As the land rushed towards the wide metal ramp of the ferry, I got nervous, this was the continuation of where I left almost 2 years ago. How would the others do? How would Turkey receive a few rugged wanderers? All fears and uncertainties proved to be far from justified, but between that certainty and the moment we stepped off the ship would lay 800 kilometers of walking, much stretching of the soul and quite a few mountains.

Along some back streets we headed south aiming for some hills, the firs goal was already set: the town Iznik, or better known as Nicea of the famous christian creed and home to the 1st and 7th Ecumenical Counsel. To get there we had two rough days, but most importantly we had to decide how to handle the opportunities of taking a ride. The first day, on some random crossing, as the sun was already setting, we decided together on the one and only rule we’ve made so far: taking rides is allowed within reasonable distance (walkable) and cannot cost anything. So far we have kept to it except once where a guy offered us a ride and then in the end demanded an exorbitant pay of 20 Liras. So as we were standing at the crossing of legislation, of course the first car to stop was a shared taxi, called “Dolmush”, we tried to wave him by and make clear that we were not willing to pay and so he offered us to take us for free.
As we arrived in Iznik most of the anxiousness was stripped as I quickly realized that just like everywhere else the true dangers lie in the soul, how we relate to each other and ourselves, and not in “bad Turkish men”. From Iznik to Eskesir the way we chose brough us along the Sakarya river through many remote villages, canyons; a way mostly labeled by the locals with all kinds of impossibilities: too far, to dangerous, too bad road (“uhm, we are on foot, what do we need a good road for?”). It all turned out to be quite simple and doable, sometimes very hot and sparce on opportunities to buy food, but the farmers were giving us all we needed and more. The greatest challenge was to learn how to acknowledge and respect Chrystals and Phils rhythmswith staying true to mine, an art I still haven’t perfected yet. Chrystal is slower, Phil is faster than I. A stretching of a new kind, when I walked alone this was never an issue, the challenges were of a different kind, like being alone and so on. Now, walking in a crew has a different dynamic, it’s easier in many ways since we carry each other, one just has to be careful to keep allegiance to the mission of working on ones own soul in solitude when it would be possible to always have communion.

The day before we made it to Eskesir we were looking for a place to spend the night, as we asked for it in little villages they kept us pointing to the mountains saying: “Hotel, hotel!”. The sun was setting and we’ve had a long day walking but kept going. Jokingly we said: “I bet, we’ll find an all inclusive resort…”, Phil pitched in, “and a water slide!”. Believe it or not, that’s just what we found! A few road turns later a hotel appeared with a pool in front of it and a winding slide into the water. Unfortunately the hotel was full and the pool was closed, but since Turkish hospitality prevailed once more over circumstances they reopened the pool just for us and let us sleep on the lounge chairs and in an abandoned hotel, all for free of course.

In Eskesir we stayed three nights or so, enjoying the atmosphere of an university town. At Varuna cafe (recommended, and NOT in LP) we met some students that were excited to show us the city. From there, we headed to Yalvac which became our next goal after we decided together that we should go all the way south to Antalya. The most important factor for our decision to go so far south and not head more east was that there’s a 300 km long trail from the lake region to the sea. Between there and Eskesir lay still 300-400 km of central Anatolian highlands. These we crossed with a mix of walking and hitch hiking along small roads far aside of the main highways that cross the country like pumping veins. We wanted the slow blood and little veins, the real life of Turkey, the stuff you don’t find in tourist brochures and Lonely Planets. We found it in abundance. In villages that count the appearance of tourists in years are keen to give the best and welcoming hospitality I have ever seen. Sometimes we heard, “Yeah we’ve seen people like you before… four years ago.” The days passed in a rush everyday was something new, we all struggled to keep our diaries in sync with all the input and developments of the inner life.

Once, in Han a little town almost in the desert, a team of archaeologists hosted us, they enthusiastically showed us their work, took us to their sights where they dug out graves and channels running under the rocks for hundreds of meters that were once used to hide from the invading Persians. We were the first “tourists” to visit the site and felt special once more taking a liking in the way we travel, for it’s only on this way those special acquaintances are abundant.
After days of yellow grain fields with a mountain to cross or avoid once in a while we arrived in Yalvac, a small city at the foot of the Sultan mountains and the gate to the southern lake region. The last part of walking was ahead with the rugged Toros mountains guarding the way. The St. Pauls trail would be our way through.

How We Live

Posted: July 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 4 Comments »

[vimeo 5461597]

A video by Phil (Dexter) and Chrystal about our place. If an image says more than a thousand words then how many words is a video?

To Istanbul (Again)

Posted: June 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

The road did not end completely in Rome, we kept traveling to the place where my last journey ended. After 10 days in Rome we felt the urge to move on so Chrystal bought tickets to Patras, first with the Train to Bari and then with the Ferry to Greece.

As I early in the morning entered the train in Termini Roma and then saw the lush landscapes of Lazio hush by I felt leaving someting behind and ready for new input that would challenge my soul. One would be amazed how easy 6 hours of train ride feel after 2 weeks of walking. Once in Bari we had six hours to kill so we walked all around the old city letting our feed guide the way. Suddenly we found ourselves facing a tall romanesque church; going inside, it appeared even mightier and for an unknown reason at that time the church was full with pious christians performing postrations before the altars. A stair lead us to the grave of the saint. The cellar roof was held by numerous small pillars connecting in bows, bellow, like under umbrellas, pilgrims prayed and sang hymns. Thus we found the grave of St. Nicolas (Santaclause) by accident, which was established there after seamen have brought the relics to Bari.

Later that eavening the ferry left and took us to Patras in Greece. In the morning the boat arrived and we decided to stay a night. Then we took a train to Athens where someone hosted us for a few nights through couch surfing. Greece is always good, the hedonistic lifestyle allowes the visitor to feel no guilt at all to spend most of the days sipping a frape in a café and even fills him even with a sense of obligation to do so. Our host sparred no effort to introduce the city to us. On a high rock, that algededly was dropped by Athene herself, a panoramic view opened for us to get a chance to acquire a feeling for the city. Sorrounded by mountains Athens cant grow larger on the original plain as it already fills the vast ditch and makse it look like milk poured into a bowl, about 5 milllion people inhabit the place which makes up half of the population of Greece and so it easy to imagine that it is somewhat of a boiling pot.

The next stop was Thessaloniki where we were welcomed again by a couch surfer. After a few great days there we took the night train to Istanbul. In the train we had our own cabin and could sleep on beds so we arrived well rested in the central station. From there we took the ferry to the asia side. It was the first time for me to go to the this part of the city, and it meant for me the true beginning of our journey because I at last moved further on this pilgrimage than I did before. There was another surprise waiting for us though: Phil, our good friend from Switzerland, arrived a week before us and found a place to stay. It was a warm welcoming, with broad smiles we entered the bus and couldn’t wait to exchange some of our experiences from along the way.

End of Roads

Posted: June 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 1 Comment »

As Chrystal already wrote we hiked along the Via Francigena to Rome, this is now already a few days back, but let me tell you how this road ended.

The brightest shining gem of the walk was the loving and open hospitality of the people we met along the way. Once, while searching in Viterbo for some shelter, we got dissapointed several times and the sun was setting. I already lost hope and Chrystal took over leading the way, asking for directions ’till we came to an old remote corner of the city. A bright face greeted us and helped us find the way to the church there, since we couldn’t find shelter there either, she offered us a place in a music school that she founded. Naomi, we found out was her name, has lived in Viterbo for 20 years now after leaving the United States and traveling long to find home. It was one of the encounters that blessed our souls as we just shared a bit life with her for 2 days and heard her story.

Leaving Viterbo we got exited to visit Rome, it would be the first time for both of us. The last days of walking went over quickly, one morning we found ourselves standing on a hill overseeing the everlasting city and the majestic St. Peters dome ahead of us. We rested for a while and I wondered what this city would mean to us and what we had to learn here. We were to found out soon and it was hell. Chrystal started to get worse cramps as we got to the pilgrim house. Once arrived there, she started to bleed, stomach got even worse and we didn’t know what to do. We called Chrystals midwife and asked for advice, she told us if the blood would get read we should be prepared to loose our baby. In the evening the blood got red. From there we entered into the saddest night of our young life. Lost in a echoing convent, deep at night Chrystals whimpering could be heard, but everyone was asleep soundly. I was confused, not knowing what to do or what to say so I kept silent. Then tears came as Chrystal lost her little one, and they were not to cease for days. Inexperienced with these situations we decided to take 3 days to mourn our baby and reflect on the fact that we were going to be parents and then not anymore. We would have called Penelope (Odysseus’ wife in the Odyssey of Homer), a name associated with great moral stature, beauty and height, but also a prophecy of great anguish, yes so great that one might wish to die or never be born. Maybe God heard her wish from the future and brought the seed of life back into his stream of love.

Now we look back on this city with mixed feelings, the experience is still a mystery to us like a locked book that we own but cannot read. Time will tell… After the 3 days we went to look at some things in Rome but their beauty was tinted by the digital cameras that were present by the thousands and saw more than their owners. The lust for exploring vanished after our sad night and did not come back till we left the city 10 days later. Thus Rome was the end of many roads: a place we imagined romantically, a place we hoped to find joy and rest and the end of the Via Francigena.

New Map

Posted: June 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | No Comments »

Just updated the map to represent our current journey, I will update the route when we get to a new place. You can zoom in an click on the lines for more information.

Here’s the link to the google map.

New Number for Italy

Posted: May 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 1 Comment »

Some people might have realized that my number is not working. We have just bought a SIM card for Italy:
+39 349 617 3931
We woulf love to hear from you 🙂

PS: Does anyone know a place to stay in Rome? If yes send us and SMS.

More Photos on Flickr

Posted: May 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | No Comments »

Entering another little town

Originally uploaded by Luke Buehler

There are photos on Flickr for our journey until now. Not yet ordered and sorted nicely, sorry.

Via Francigena

Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels | 2 Comments »

Most of you know that Luke and me (plus one) are traveling right now. We took a train to Florence Italy last Tuesday and decided to hike (and hitch)  to Rome. I know, right, we found out about 3 weeks ago we will be having a baby, but we got some advice from midwives and as long as I’m hydrated and eating well and not carrying too much weight, we are safe to travel. So we’ve been hiking now for 7 days, each day around 20 kms, which takes about 4-5 hours  and we get up at 5:30 am, because the first couple days the Tuscan sun scortched us! The feet took a bit adjusting, but now just swell. My pack is around 10 kilos and Luke’s is around 15. We are doing an old mideval route called “via francigena” it was the main route used to travel through Europe. Along the way there are free places to stay for Pilgrims. It’s been so awesome, free bed, some times a kitchen to use and a place to hang smelly clothes. We have 4 more days until Rome, where we’ll chill out for a bit, because they  say I could be feeling a bit sick then.
As of yet, I have nearly no problematic pregnancy symptoms,  just stopping and peeing every 15 meters. Oh and we’ve been hitchhiking, which so far has been such an adventure. We hitchhike where the trail is paved road, cause your feet start to burn like crazy when the road is flat. And the sweetest coolest people have picked us up. Don’t worry those who are worried, we only go on the smaller coutry roads not the highways, that is too dangerous and we have a safety plan! We are very pregidous against BMW’s and Mercede’s they always fly by, but we appreciate the gust of wind in our faces! And when you walk along the road the huge trucks are the scariest, those blasts of wind almost lift you off the ground!

Luke decieded not to go to St. John’s university this fall cause he didn’t get enough aid. We plan right now to come back to the US in September and we want to visit Canada soon after if possible. Alright, this cafe is expensive and we still don’t have a place to sleep for tonight yet, this town has no place for Pilgrims. Oh and Italy, gelato is amazing, coconut, white chocolate is a personal favorite and Spaghetti bolognese is something is dye for, statues and art, you just can’t beat. Pictures soon.

On the Road Again

Posted: May 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

In the literal sense of the word. We are walking again and it feels so good! Right now on the way to Rome on the Via Francigena. I hope to blog about the many adventures Chrystal and me have experienced so far.

The Heart

Posted: February 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Thoughts | No Comments »

I just found on one of my favourite blogs following quote:

The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (St. Macarius, H.43.7)

The same quote was given to me by one of the monks who taught me many things about Orthodoxy on Mount Athos. It’s poetic and contains a deep truth. I do not consider to understand it but it expresses something I’m growing increasingly aware of. The heart is the vastest space we can find. It contains all the hope and fear, happiness and pain. Interested to find out what a pilgrimage is about, the question always returns to the journey of the heart. What does it mean when one goes “to find myself”? Isn’t it when we try to use the outer journey to force ourselves into an inner one? The forcing means that we try to avoid it. For my part, I try to avoid it by all possible means, it’s scary to face myself. I always though all is calm inside and the distractions of life keep me from becoming quiet but it turns out to be opposite: there are dragons, lions, poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. It’s scary to go there. It turns out that I try to find things to distract myself with in order that I do not have to face those dangerous toils of my heart and that the true mountains to climb lie there.