Sunday, October 16, 2011

Travels: Conclusion of another lovely hol to Istanbul and Greece

Back from Istanbul and Greece...Yeah!! Except for the accidental and unwanted tan on my face (with bonus color on my nose & did I say obvious line from my shades? Damnit!) , neck (did I mention with an obvious round collar tan line. arrrgggh!) and upper segment of my arms (yes, clearly defined just like a damn bread toasted on one side!).

I say accidental because I jumped off the plane, hit the ground running roaming the historical sights. In all the excitement, I kinda forgot the number #1 rule of applying plenty of  sun block in that dreaded noon sun...No wonder all the Greeks seemed to have wrinkled dark skin as they get old....looks great when you are brown in your 20s, possibly hot in your 30s but darn awful like a shrivelled dehydrated prune when you hit 40s and beyond. Not to mention those darn freckles...looks cute on little Annie but not so cute on a grown woman...

So...Apart from all that sun coloring, all is well and good. Most importantly, I got back safe and sound with absolutely no unsolicited excitement from the workers strike that happened in Athens, from the general pissed Greek population over the enormous euro debt that somehow spiraled and gone brushed under the carpet for the last 10 years by everyone....

We missed the strike by a day thankfully. The strike was on the 05Oct and we had our flight from Istanbul to Athens on the 6th...When we got there and chatted with our driver, he told us it really wasnt that bad and it was typical media circus playing up the news and sensationalised the whole "incident". However judging from the loads of still uncleared rubbish that were piling up mountain high EVERYWHERE along the streets, I suppose there are still alot of angry people walking around who rather "not work" than come up with something more beneficial to the economy. No offence to the Greeks but I seriously think the lot need to have a change in their mindset and attitude. When you chat to some of the locals, they still think it's their entitlement to retire at 55, have an easy life like they had for the last 10yrs and get away from paying tax as much as possible. That's a sweeping statement and again I must emphasize, it's an impression, not a fact.

The same period I was there, a Singapore chap had gone missing in Athens for about 9 days when I got there. Apparently he had made a missed call to his fren and was never seen again. No one knew where he had gone. If only he had "check in" to facebook location as often as I did, then perhaps at least the police will know where to look for him. Right now, no one knew if he is on the mainland, or on the islands. Judging by the "attitude and efficiency" of the troopers....I dont have much hope if he is still missing up to now. He could have slipped off a cliff, fallen off into the waters and no one knows...none of the high area were barricaded...if he was robbed, I dont see a reason for killing him. It's not like its a ransom bid. I dont know...the Greek govt tried to downplay foulplay saying that the country is safe but the locals I had spoken to told me otherwise. That the streets are getting nasty with a heightened increase of mugging, deaths, murders etc because alot of people are jobless. One said her cousin had been jobless for 3 years and she rather live on the islands than in Athens because she felt unsafe. Watching Tv and seeing all those "missing person" posters, including the Singapore chap, makes you wonder the real crime rate in the state. However if you look at it in another perspective, if the Sg chap had kept to the tourist route that covered 90% of the main sights that the tickets covered, I seriously wondered how would he be attacked in broad daylight (since the attractions close at 5pm) . There are so many people there. The only way he can get attacked is if he played gungho and went roaming the city late at night by himself.

What i found a little funny was messages from my friends who kept asking me to "keep a lookout" for this missing Sg fellow. I didnt want to be rude but seriously people, if the police force, the Sg foreign affairs people and his wife are searching for him, do you think he will be like what... still sightseeing waiting to be spotted? Hello? Think for a minute right. It's not like he will turn off his phone and still be holidaying right?  In the end, I joking replied a fren "Yeah sure, if he is still sightseeing along the same sites I did while his wife and greek force are all out searching for him, then yeah sure, I might spot him."

Anycase, having been on a 2 weeks stretch between the 2 countries-cities, I have to both places have their beauty and "flaws". Generally speaking, the people in Turkey are waaay much friendlier and they dont have a sour dough face like the world owe them a living. How should I put it. In short, the Greeks I had on the streets, vendors etc had given me a feeling that they "over-prize themselves like the goose that lays golden eggs, but have attitude like a disturbed prickly porcupine, and efficiency of a slow snail." There isnt alot of smiling faces in Athens. I dont know if they are a sour lot by nature, or the sour economy has a hand in the ton of black faces I had seen. You would think that they should be happy that people are still coming in to spend $$ in their country and helping to bring in revenue...but no not really. I just wished I didnt feel like I had to constantly avoid being fleeced at every corner. Then again, most countries are such. Then again, I didnt know if I should put it down to "Some Greeks are bad in Maths" or "Some Greeks are dishonest to tourists." One has to check the prices and change very carefully...However, not all Greeks are so. I did meet nice ones, and the funniest thing? The nicest friendliest and smiley lots I met are the airport staff, esp those in charge of the Xrays. At least they crack jokes and try their "foreign" tongue abit. The people at Santorini are real nice and friendly too! Especially some of the places we ate in.Maybe it's just rather stressful to live in Athens now...

I was also joking with a fren that they probably aint getting a lot of China tourists yet because I havent been thrown the death glare from people yet. Most days, everywhere I went, they all thought I was Japanese and kept greeting me with Konichiwa -Hello/ Good afternoon. For many years now, I had been saying we are from HK. Too lazy to explain the specifics. Only some are smart enough to pick up our accents to know we really aint local HK. All of them could guess my partner being Australian but 100% are wrong in guessing I am from the States. Yup. No one guessed I am from Singapore. Terrible isnt it. Either Singapore isnt very well known, or they are stereotyping all Singaporean with the Singlish accent. What was even funnier, when the Istanbul guy heard I said, Hong Kong, he went "Jackie Chan!!!" with much excitement. Talk about successful country ambassador! I remember when I was in Santorini, the restaurant owner asked me "You speak very good English for someone from Hong Kong." I told her I really wasnt a HK local and the first thing she said was "From US?" I told her no, from Singapore. She didnt have any acknowledgement or recognition that I felt it was almost hilarious. Previously when I had said HK, she was like going Ooooo and aaaahhhhh. Guess Singapore is still relatively viewed as "nobody" here in Europe....well maybe except our ex-colonial master the Brits.

Some people I encountered, also do not read airport signs very well, in their own language. Take for example, there were 2 lines at passport control. One says "EU citizens and Locals", the other says "Non Citizens and other passports." Signs were written in Greek, English and something else. The EU passport line was direct and short , while the Non citizens was a round loop and longer. Everyone made a beeline to the EU line esp the China people who obviously want to be "first" in everything. I was the only one who went to the non citizen line. When the couple before me cleared my counter, I approached the counter only to be "told off" by this girl from the Q next to me, who loudly stake her claim "EXCUSE ME, I am here FIRST." I turned to her and replied "Sorry but you are in the WRONG Q." She was either trying to act stupid or suddenly English is an Alien language and she repeated "You are behind me." I repeated to her as if she was slow witted child "Too bad, YOU are in the wrong passport line." She was about to argue but the officer told her she was wrong, waved her off and validated my claim. She looked shocked. She started to speak in Greek thinking that will win her some favors and brownie points but the guy just shook her head and pointed to my line, which now has a long line of people waiting because the airport staff realise alot of travellers are not good at reading simple instructions and put them back in the right line... 3 cheers to the airport staff! Meanwhile that gal looked lost and tried to say something more. Meanwhile, I just calmly handed my passport over without further ado. There is no arguing with a fool. Seeing she wasnt going to budge, the officer in the EU and citizens Q decided to "take" her passport.

Turkey was all great until you try to buy a Turkish handmade carpet. If you want to see master of con at work, and how sweet those serpent tongues can be, go experience a rug buying in Istanbul, You will be how a complete stranger can try to swine you with every possible trick and lies, and claiming the huge 60% discount from like what, a 300% mark up profit? I wasnt really keen to buy one but reading all the writeup, I thought I would go experience it myself. Ha! It was funny. I have to admit they have BEAUTIFUL carpets of varying workmanship and designs and colours. All good if you have wads of cash to spare and burn, but if you want a decent price rug....forget buying it because you will be certain to be ripped off unless you dont care and you are truly in love. Like what the sales person tried to say to me, "it's a relationship, when you fall in love, you are in love and you need to be together... and they dont depreciate in value only increase..." yeah rite if I believe those crap.

It was funny when he tried to sell it as an heirloom and trying to convince me he was selling me at a price like I am his Turkish sister. Hahaha!! I was laughing so hard inside and trying to keep my face straight. He was trying to convince me that the carpet I liked was worth US$12K, that's after 60% discount. You believe that fellow? We asked someone who used to work in a carpet industry in Turkey and he said for the's probably worth $4-5k.

I felt like telling the sales guy, Sorry buddy, I aint no heiress or countess for a need for such expensive stuff. I dont have a freaking huge castle or $10million mansion to go with it either. Plus, saving them for my kids? That's even more impossible. If I have any kids, I will leave absolutely nothing to them. No debts no money. If they want something expensive and valuable, go make your own money buddy coz you aint getting any from papa and mama. Good thing no one is my kid huh. Lol! In the end, I got out of the place explaining I need to think about it. He knew he lost me there. You should see his crest fallen face. Seriously....the change was so apparent....

So apart from that interesting carpet escapade, Istanbul is really a lovely place. Warm people and for a Muslim state, it really was rather secular. The only thing that really reminds you that you are in a Muslim state is the Mosques are dotted all over and hearing the prayers at fixed intervals, and of course no sale of pork. However, bars aplenty and no strict Muslim practices like those in Middle East or Malaysia. In istanbul, one feels the tolerance of the Muslims of other practices and that is great. Makes me respect these open minded people here. Roaming the sights do make me want to tell off some Westerners. It IS a known rule (common knowledge) to wear a headscarf or something to cover the head when u are inside an active mosque when praying sessions are in on. There are English signs all over the place but some women just choose to openly IGNORE and gave no care or whatsoever. They do as they please. The irony, it isnt that they didnt have something to cover their head with. They had the damn scarf on their freaking necks. Does it make me want to strangle them? Yeah it did because I couldnt understand why it was so difficult for them to just respect the local practices. And there are English signs that says "NO FLASH" yet these westerners just didnt care. No wonder some locals want to yell at these selfish ignorant nincompoops to stop.

When one travels, we see and meet all sort of people. I suppose that's what makes the trip good, great or bad. These 2 weeks had been great. The weather up till Athens was fantastic though it really rain on my parade in Santorini. Still. Rain or shine, I had an enjoyable but tiring time. I finally got to Athens after all these years of think about it. I had never gotten the chance to join my classmates for the Europe Art Tour back in schooldays, and so it felt great to be finally able to do it now, stepping on ground zero where all the real stuff and history sites are.

I should load my pictures but that will probably take forever...maybe I should just share some of my iphone teaser shots first before I consolidate my camera shots.  Have fun waiting!

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