Silk Road 6


mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » June

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2010

06.28

 

Topkapi, Santa Sofía, Dombabache palace Sultanamet,Grand Bazzar, Galata Tower…. Yes Istanbul is full of places to visit and in each trip to Istanbul a long list of very known placces come up, but Istanbul is also a place to get lost, to walk and to find your favorite corners, here is a neighbourhood were I´ve spent some time, it´s not hidden, it´s not far, is just a matter of crossing a few streets and getting into it. And for not being afraid of uphill streets! The area is partly in Bethane and partly in Beyoglu. A way to visit it is to get off the tram in Bethane and walk up by Boğazkesen street.

Maybe you can see one or two less mosques and have an eclectic afternoon walking here.

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However before starting hiking up you can visit the Istanbul Modern museum. It´s very surprising. There was a black and white video that looked very like Spain in post war times, the interior of the houses and the way people dressed could be the same, also as it had no sound it gave an even more impression. Don´t forget to take a look at the special library downstairs and have a tea or even a meal in the cafe-restaurant, I have to warn you that it´s pricy.

This neighbourhood seems quiet but the activity never stops, it´s just a few steps from the ultra busy and vibrant Taksim and Istiklal ( If you get Preciados street in Madrid and multiply it by eight, this is it) but it´s totally different. Sit in a terrace for 30 minutes and watch the people and you´ll see what I mean. If you walk around you can find neat cafes, intellectuals smoking a pipe(not water pipe), yellow Vespas, second hand book and vinyl shops, old 2010 Audrie Hepburn calendar, shops with white macs on the counter, Graffiti, stickers looking like computer game aliens, Some of the most bohemian Hotels in town, historic hammans, the Italian embassy, older women covered in black, more art galleries, boutique hotels, traditional restaurants, modern restaurants decorated by designers, pharmacies selling Cialis, Viagra and Yasmin, Tex Mex restaurants where a Freddy Mercury-like-moustache-waiter serves you, alleys finishing in restaurants with pianos, Electro jazz in every corner and toyshops with ginger cats.

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Not everything in Turkey is handcrafted rugs. A gallery had an exhibition with paintings that had women in burka and another covered with just transparent ropes. The neighbourhood is full of art galleries, some very modern some less. If you are into it, they can provide you with a map of all the galleries around.

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One of the exhibits was about Vietnam, a reproduction of the bomb “little boy” and a huge book made in leather with over 30 pages telling the story. The pages were 1.8 meters tall!!! It´s interesting seeing how they do an exhibition about Vietnam, in the western world nobody bothers to complain or talk or even think about it any more. One of the artists took the time to show it all to us even though it was the last day of the exhibition.

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Hike up, look at the buildings, enjoy the corners.

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Old warehouses reconverted into cafes with different music.

One of the things I´ve liked the most is that the area has a good balance between locals and tourists. Being so close to Taksim it is surprising that in some places beer is not sold, we don´t have to forget that Islam doesn’t like alcohol, and in some restaurants they buy beer next door to bring it to you hidden in napkins. The reason that Islam doesn’t like alcohol is because the Coran says “don’t harm yourself” and alcohol harms our bodies, it makes sense even though most Turks smokes. If you fancy a beer, maybe you can try to find “Sota” restaurant at the end of an alley.

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Some graffiti and the street dogs that are everywhere.

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Some spanish in this gaffiti, didn´t make sense to me.

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This one is not yellow.

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It´s full of second hand shops with furniture, old radios, old tvs or whatever you may want. My friend Alvaro bought a brand new Smeg fridge with the same look, but in a green colour.

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This tells me you cand find ANYTHING.

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Also with all kinds of old cinema equipment. I wonder what wierd shops I missed around here.

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I prefer my backpack. One day I should talk about it.

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The sticker can be called “the nuclear scream”.

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Old vinyls for modern Djs. You could buy vinyls in perfect condition and at a great price.

In my walks around Istanbul I found a book called “SILK”. I’ve bought it and I´m readong it while waiting for the Iranian visa.  It tells the story of silk from the time it was discovered to modern times and in every country. Next post I’ll be telling you some of what I´m learning.

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Why not finish the post with  a nice sunset picture? From the cafe of Istanbul Modern. If you come here and like the view head to Tomtom hotel(nothing to do with the navigator) and you´ll have a super view of the city. It´s just in front of the Italian embasy.

I have to say that I had some help to find this area, I met Carlos and Isma one day in a terrace having lunch and they told me about some shops with old stuff so, I went, liked it and then moved to a hostel in the area.

Write to you soon

Fernando

2010

06.25

This post has been delayed a week, I’ve got a killer torticollis that has taken my willingness to do things. Now I’m nearly fine and I’ve been able to finish it and move a little bit. Here it is:

Last week it was four months since I left on my trip. The time goes quickly. Until now all has gone great(apart from the torticollis) and all has been quite easy. From now, all becomes a bit more complicated, after Turkey there’s no alphabet like ours and that makes things harder. Also I leave the Mediterranean and the culture changes quite a lot. That’s also why the most interesting part is coming..

I’m not sure how I’ve been able to make it, but for the 2 packs of razors I brought with me I’ve just used one. Four months, four razors, I think I’ve shaved less than what I thought.

I’m in Istanbul, the Eurasian city, as my trip. The Bosporus separates me from Asia. It’s the only city in the world that is between two continents. I love Istanbul but I want to cross, continue the trip, keep seeing things, changing to another country, another language, another currency…. But this has to be done step by step, now it’s time to enjoy Istanbul.

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On the left Europe, on the right Asia.

Turkish visa has no complications just pay 15 Euro at the border which most nationalities don’t even have to pay. The bad part was going through the Greek and Turkish passport control at 3am, with the Cyprus conflict they both annoy the other country a little bit at the border.

From Turkey all the countries also require visa. I got the Syria one in Madrid and with the Iran one I started the process a while ago, but, It’s been authorized! So I’m happy as I’ll be able to collect it on Monday.

For Jordan, Armenia and Georgia the visa can be got on the border so I just have to manage another 4 visas until the end of the trip and I have already started with the Turkmenistan one so I’m doing quite well.

It still seems I’m not far, there’s only one hour difference with Spain and the plugs have been the same since I left. Well, the faces are changing. Until Montenegro people looked the same as in Spain, totally familiar faces, even in Albania most of the people would look unnoticed in a street in Zamora.  In Greece people looked different, they looked like… Greeks! Curly hairs, eyes like… Greeks!, why describing them. You can see how they look looking at my guide in the video. In Turkey a lot of people have a darker colour on their face and the factions are different also. Things are changing. Cool!

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Even Street cats get to change, they look more Persian with longer hair. Iran has a border with Turkey.

I don’t know why it’s come to my mind that when I was a kid I didn’t really like this thing of travelling, I think the main reason was the food, I hated eating in different places than home, the food that I was not used to. Now I’m looking forward to see the food in every place. Once my mom would not allow me to eat for a full day. There was rice for lunch and I didn’t want to eat it, so she told me that until I’d eat one grain I wouldn’t eat anything else. Now I love rice and I don’t even remember if I ate that one. I think I didn’t.

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The Blue Mosque. Behind the fountain you can see the one of the buses that provides the place with thousands of tourists a day.

As I’ve been a few days waiting for the Iran Visa approval I’ve taken some time to improve the web, I’m going to tell you what I’ve done because I think the people working in IT may find this interesting.

There are 37 posts and 15 videos. I’m getting to do the minimum postings per week as I wanted. Each week and month I have more visits. This last month I’ve got over 1500 which is an achievement for me.

Here are some of the changes I’ve been doing:

– Enhancement on navigation for users and search engines.

– Videos Uploaded to YouTube.

– Change in the layout to display bigger pictures which is not very normal in blogs around the web.

– Picture tagging to improve photo search by search engines.

– Iphone(and similar) plugging to have a friendly display.

– More SEO(Search Engine Optimization) to be display in searches. Change the structures of Tags, Labels and Permalinks.

– Use of Google Sitemap for search engines. Also now Google receives an update when the page changes.

– Similar posts are displayed when a single post is viewed.

Two more pictures to finish the post. Next time I’ll talk to you about the neighbourhood I´ve liked the most.

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On a boat.

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Crossing Galata bridge by tram. There´s always a mosque in view.

Ah, for healing the torticollis I’ve used up the Tiger balm that the owner of the Korean Barbecue, were I used to eat with my work friends on Thursday, gave me the day I told her I was leaving. I love that ointment. The Korean Barbecue mmmm the best tempura in town!.

Fernando

2010

06.18

When I organized the trip I found Greece between Albania and Turkey, I didn´t know how to do it. I had two options, go to Greece and not spending too much time here or staying two months seeing everything. I decided the first option. Greece is a very interesting country and full of incredible things but I couldn´t give it too much time. Moreover Greece is expensive in comparison with other countries on the trip so I decided to spend around 10 days there.

I planned a simple route by the north. Starting in the less know Zagoria region and then going by Meteora(pictures here), After that I´d continue to the east to Thesalóniki from where I´d go to Turkey.

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Church near Arta.  Zagoria region is far, with a small population and the roads are not very good, that´s why it´s more isolated and has some special flavour.

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Detail of the roof.

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Bridge of the Kallaritikos river where I kayaked. Here is the video. Maybe those brown bears that still live in the region have crossed over many times?

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They were amazing. I generally don’t like too much “the visual guides”, in this case it was quite nice, however it did not talk much about what is not seen as they were as heavy as iron.

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A very nice new long bridge that connects Peloponeso peninsular with the main land on the way to Athens.

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Yes, I like bridges. Picture from the bus…

The plan changed a bit, Ana was returning home from Athens. We were not excited about the idea of going to Athens as everybody talks about Athens as a chaotic, noisy and uninteresting city. With such low expectations, of course, We’ve loved it!. We had no intention of going to all the sights, we didn’t think it was worth it, we enjoyed the walks between the sights and the cafes and the café culture Greeks have. There are thousands of terraces that are perfect to stay a while people watching, like those orthodox priests coming back from grocery shopping. Also my new blister made us relax and take it easy. The good thing of having another blister is that with the translation I’ve learned the word in English, probably it was in one English class that I was not paying attention.

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Leftovers of the anti-crisis protest or anti- crisis counter measures or anti-system. Victim: a bank.

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The guy from the hostel showed me in the map all the streets they normally use, he said in his country they never break anything.

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¡How beautiful is the Acropolis! I miss Zagoria.

In Greece it is unavoidable read about the Greek gods. What has surprised me the most is that they were contrary to the “current” gods. Yes, for example, the Christian god is benevolent and understanding, but Greek gods were capricious, egoistical, chaotic, frivolous, bloodthirsty, despots, revengeful and temperamental, what now we say son of a bitch.

Reading Greek mythology is a mix between south American telenovela, Tarantino film and a constant orgy, so it’s not strange that Greeks were scared of them. It is possible that this made them create philosophy, maybe with these horrible gods in which they were not finding support or protection or explanation or hope for what happened after death, the Greeks had to set out a logical way of what would happen latter, of what they were. They had no Genesis to explain or heaven to wrap them up.

Thanks to those evil gods the ancient Greeks revolutionized thinking and now our society is like it is maybe due to them.

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Reading about the Greek thinking it surprises me the differences they had about classes. Now that separation would seem at least xenophobic, even in the reality our society it maintains it in a way.

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More food, but, is this Greek? Or ottoman-Turk? Or maybe from Armenia? I’ll tell you once I arrive to Armenia. The vine leaves are stuffed with rice, a bit of olive oil on top and a sauce to finish it.

A Greek figure that I like is the Oraculo. Going there to ask about your future to a Pithonise(fortune teller) half drugged saying ambiguous things with no real meaning had to be a real show. Who’d have a time machine to witness it. We visited the Dodoni Oracle.

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I like looking into the urban magazines that are now everywhere, even in this case, with Greece it’s impossible to get absolutely anything with unreadable letters. I loved this little girl.

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Quite a typical picture, but it’s so photogenic that I had to post it.

And Ana left, there was only one more stop, Thessaloniki. A city that suffered a big change in 1923 as a Greece pact with Turkey and Bulgaria an interchange of population to adjust to the new ethnic borders and make them more pure. There were hundreds of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians from Greece and at the same time nearly 800.000 Greeks arrived to mother nation Greece even though they had never stepped over it.

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Greek streets have two sounds. The sound of Backgammon dices and the orthodox rosary that don’t stop moving. But, ¿what is the difference between the orthodox Christians and the catholic? There are a lot of differences, but I’m not going to name them, I’m only going to tell you why there was a definitive separation. The cause was an interpretation of where the Holy Spirit came from: Rome says that he comes from the Father and the Son, for the orthodox, the Holy Spirit is generated directly from the father, same as the son. The other difference that was important in it’s moment is that for westerns the unity of the 3 people comes give by it’s holy nature, while for orient, the unities is assumed by the father. Really, they did well separating, because with so many differences….

Greece still keeps a lot of things for me, I haven’t seen anything about the Peloponnese, neither the marvellous islands with white villages and blue windows or Rodas or…. I’ll come one one day to see all this and to hike up Olympus.

I finish Greece, I have to go. It’s night time, owned by Nix good. I get into the night bus for 9 hours, I’ll be in Istanbul after the sunset.

See you soon.

Fernando

2010

06.13

Feeling special is something that gives us happiness. It happens to me once in a while in the river. I’m floating in the middle of the water, it can bee the most open valley or the darkest canyon and without thinking about it, a private feeling invades me and nobody around me realises it.

Probably in an unconscious way this is one of the things that makes me like the river so much and why it has me hooked.

With kayaking you reach many places that can’t be reached in any other way. The more difficult or remote the places are the more they return to you, well, like anything else in life, the more difficult it is the more it gives back.

When you are in the middle of a river going down you are in total contact with nature, in the most changing element. You forget the feeling of floating to find your way between currents and rocks. In situations, in one of those difficult rivers, in the limit of your possibilities, you arrive to a place where the river has narrowed multiplying it strength, the inclination gives the water even more speed and the walls compress it making it immensely powerful, maybe hostile. Putting the paddle in the water is like grabbing a moving truck that has no intention of stopping. Those are moments in which instinctively you concentrate completely so as not to fail.

Moreover the river creates a special noise, it does not let you hear anything, seems it erases all around. It leaves you alone with it, seems nothing else exists. It makes you feel meaningless, it minimizes you with it strength, without asking it returns you some of the humbleness that consumerism and technology has stolen.

Later, when you arrive to the bridge or the green place where the take out is, you look back into your thoughts, the images fixed with the water strength and the noise. You realize that the river has finished, that you’ve done it, maybe a bit of a survival feeling, of success. You feel great and happy, but not forgetting the meaninglessness you felt before.

Kayaking Aoos river on the last day I had this feeling of “being special”. I didn’t feel like bringing the camera out to get a picture or to do video. I didn’t felt like talking, it was not needed, it was a memory for me, but today I’ve felt like describing it and writing about it.

I’ve kayaked 4 days in Greece, I really wanted to kayak in the Greek mountains, Greece is full of mountains(the divine Olympus is nearly 3.000 meter high). I’ve done some rivers that were not very difficult but were a lot of fun. Here is a short video, I don’t want to bore non kayakers.

As I was alone I asked for guidding to Brain Waves, the kayak company in greede. Spyros make me feel like if I was kayaking with my friends.

http://www.vimeo.com/12506575

If it downloads slow, please click HD.

I ask myself why today I’ve decided to philosophize about the river, maybe because I´m in Greece and after so much reading about it`s philosophic past I’ve been enveloped by the idea of “wanting to know” ( as philosophers said) and I’ve wanted to explain myself as to why I like rivers.

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This is how philosophy is, naked thoughts, as this trunk that one day was an elegant tree and now the river has stripped it.

I’ll soon talk to you about what I’ve seen in the rest of Greece, as I’ve already arrived to Istanbul. I’ve talked today about the rivers because about Greece I don’t know what to say, the classic philosophical past, the present crisis, the intriguing Orthodox church as we saw in Meteora, the unknown north or the Ottoman past.

I’ll decide it in a couple of days and tell you

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2010

06.07

If we stay one more day?

It’s a pleasure travelling with no rush, enjoying each day, each moment, with out thinking what will come later, because later can be tomorrow or in three days. That’s how my trip was, I arrived in Athens just in time to get the flight back. My flight left me in Tirana, and, as you have seen trapped us.

The arrival to Greece was in a bus with super loud Albanian music hour by hour, I thought we would never arrive.

Our first destination was Ioanina, a city with a name as beautiful as it’s interior. It was our transit city where we rented a car to go to see “Meteora”.

That name really attracted us unavoidably, in the Tesalia flatlands 30 million years ago, under the sea, rocks were formed, pinnacles of sandstone and when the water receded the pinnacles were exposed to the open air.

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Fog was giving additional mysticism because when we’d spot a pinnacle we didn’t know it would have a monastery until we were close.

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The second day we had some better weather. Those pinnacles, some over 500 meters high and in the XIV century some orthodox monasteries were built on top, at one time there were even 24.

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Each one on top of one of those rocks “SUSPENDED in the air” with no connection to the earth.  To live happy, let’s live high in the sky, and this is how it really looks, rocks in the air, monasteries SUSPENDED in the sky, as the monks said: “getting closer to God”.

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The image was appealing, and with it in our heads we had started the trip. We hoped to find it after each turn… but Meteora didn’t come.  Finally when we arrived  we soon decided  that we had to stay one more day!

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Monks allow visitors to their monasteries. Now there are only 6 left,  4 monks and 2 nuns.

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They are all Byzantine and, due to our ignorance about the Orthodox church, all was much more attractive, the little churches painted from top to bottom with biblical images and bright colours. The monks themselves with their over long grey beards, their hats and all dressed in black. The views from each monastery looking to the others, ruins in some pinnacles that used to be something and now nearly nothing left.

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Sometimes watching the ruins is more thrilling, seems more abstract, more unreal, further back in time.

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Sunset, so we leave until the following day.

Our hotel, in Kastraki village, was run by a Greek family, mother and son, they couldn’t be nicer, they had a garden full of hammocks. We spent the sunset there, gazing, this time from under, the majestic pinnacles, saving them forever in our heads, and being able to remember them anytime we wished.

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Now there are no rope baskets, neither nets suspended where they would put goods or monks inside, but there are still wood cable cars hanging from cables. Now you can find stairs and when it rains it creates small waterfalls that makes it difficult to climb up. On the left in the picture you can see the cabin where the old hanging net used to be.

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The landscape itself is worth a visit even without the monasteries.

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Inside one of the monasteries.

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This piece of wood is hit to call for playing.

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Nobody knows very well how the monks built their monasteries there in the XIV century. How were they able to bring the stones and other materials up there,  even how could they get themselves up.

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After a sudden stop so as not to run over the this Greek turtel we decided it was too beautiful to leave a crazy Greek driver or tourist kill it so we moved it to the side of the road.

We didn´t care about getting totally wet and it was difficult to leave the pinnacles. But finally we found our way back to the real world to put our feet on the ground… We would have stayed “one more day”.

Ana

2010

06.05

Greek stories will have to wait a little longer. I have had to stop on the way to recap after 75 days in the Balkans.

I’ve crossed Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albanian, an area of the world with an exciting recent history that aroused my emotions and that offered a lot to discover. I’ve lived part of it’s history, hike to snow covered mountains, motorcycled around an island, kayaked down rivers with isolated canyons, driven on impossible roads, I’ve gotten into valleys I’ve never wanted to leave and still when I close my eyes I see that night when thousands of fireflies hovered not realizing the menacing thunderstorm that was in the background.

I’ve also seen it’s cities; fortified, monumental, forgotten, cosmopolitan, reconstructed, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, communist, chaotic, European, glamorous, old and modern. There’s such a variety that crowds you. In them I’ve seen the beginning of the change from west in a way that sometimes disorientated me.

These memories make me happy with my decision to visit the Balkans and not start my silk road journey as is traditionally written “From Istanbul to Xiam”.

My Balkan experience has been all the more special because of it’s people. They don’t see you as a stranger but as a guest and they really show you what the word “hospitality” means.

Although I’ve seen many places where I would love to stay longer I must continue to the countries with Ancient Civilizations and much more history,  Greece, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, central Asia. I keep walking east with a different perspective after my Balkan experience.

Fernando

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