Home Again, Home Again

We’ve been back in the US for about a month now, but we haven’t spent much time at home in San Francisco. In two and a half weeks, we visited Colorado, Utah, Tennessee and Texas (twice!) to catch up with family, many whom we hadn’t seen in over a year. In between delicious, home-cooked meals and long, often hilarious story exchanges, we enjoyed some of our favorite summer activities. We hiked, camped and swam, and we also tried a few new sports, including fly fishing and wake surfing. (Turns out, I, Kristin, am terrible at both!)

Now, we’re finally home for good, readjusting to “normal” life. It’s a major transition, switching from the unpredictable excitement of life on the road to the routines of work and household chores. I confess, I’m feeling very nostalgic for our trip, and I joke I’m experiencing post-travel depression.

But we’re trying to keep our adventure alive. We’ve decorated our house with the goodies we purchased throughout our journey — silk pillowcases from Cambodia, a hand-made Japanese knife, a Turkish carpet from Istanbul — and we’re enjoying the memories that each one brings.

Tonight, I plan to make a seafood dish from a recipe we learned at a cooking class in Sydney. (Although we made it with crab as pictured below, it’s not crab season here, so I’m experimenting with whole prawns.)

I went to a Vietnamese grocery store in our neighborhood to get ingredients, wandering through a maze of aisles offering everything from kaffir leaves and lemongrass to a whole pig’s head. You may think this is strange, but seeing that head — ears and all — made me feel a little better about being home. It reminded me of all the places I’d seen other disembodied Porkies on display in the past year (the poor guy below was hanging out in the heat of the Cambodian jungle), and I felt a little like I was back on the road again.

Yesterday, I wandered by a Latin band performing an informal concert in the middle of downtown. Office workers milled about, some even breaking into spontaneous salsa dancing on the sidewalk. While it may not have matched the raucous energy of the weekend street festivals we saw in Buenos Aires, it made me smile and reminded me how lucky I am to live in San Francisco.

We’ll continue to explore our hometown with fresh perspective. Though you wouldn’t know it from our lack of writing lately, we do plan to keep this blog alive. We have many more stories to share from our trip, so stay tuned.

Preparing for Re-entry

We can hardly believe it. 324 days ago, we packed our bags and flew west to Tokyo. We had little idea what to expect, but we knew that 11 months seemed like forever and that we’d have plenty of time to figure things out.

Clearly we were having fun, because those 11 months have quickly come and gone. Today we fly from Istanbul back to San Francisco, where we’ll be settling in and trying to readjust to “normal” life.

There’s much to reflect upon and write about, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to share thoughts and stories in the coming weeks. In the mean time, here’s one last vignette from our final destination, Istanbul.

After almost a year of wearing the same 3-4 outfits (which we often hand-wash in tiny sinks), sweating profusely, being sticky with sunscreen and bug spray, and sometimes sporting excessively shaggy hair, I think it’s fair to say we are due for a bit of spit and polish before we return to the US.

I’m not saying that we’ve gone feral: we still wear deodorant and shower every day, unless we’re camping. Kristin may not be wearing makeup this year, and I may not have shaved in a while, but we are almost certainly the best smelling people on any hot, crowded Istanbul streetcar.

As I mentioned before, one of my favorite long-term travel experiences has been getting haircuts in different countries. I’ve had five already: in Cambodia, Thailand, New Zealand, Costa Rica, and rural Italy. Kristin and I were both overdue for a trim, so we found a pair of men’s and women’s shops in our Istanbul neighborhood.

It turns out that Istanbul is a great place for a haircut on the road. Salons and barbershops are a major cultural institution in the city, where fashionable Turkish women reportedly have their hair professionally washed and styled every few days. We were excited to see what the experience would be like.

Anticlimactically, Kristin’s haircut was straightforward and familiar, apart from the language barrier. Just a small, basic salon, and a nice, quick haircut.

Turkish barbershops, however, are an entirely different beast. I sat in the waiting area, sipping the ubiquitous Turkish çay, and watched two older gentlemen receive precise cuts and styles — made semi-permanent with lots of hairspray — from two elderly barbers. These cuts were very thorough: I waited nearly an hour before my turn.

When I sat down in the chair, the barber had me lean forward (face-first) into a sink. This was novel, I thought: an otherwise ordinary shampoo became more exciting as the soap and water flooded my face. I strategically breathed through my nose or mouth, depending on which was unobstructed at that moment. As I sat up, the barber smothered my face with a towel and briskly shook my head around, wringing every drop of water out of my hair. It sounds unpleasant, but it was surprisingly relaxing.

Long story short, after a flurry of scissors and razors and other sharp implements, I received an excellent haircut, perhaps the best of the trip. Just one more memorable experience to add to an unforgettable year.

Stay tuned: we’ll share some more stories, photos, and statistics with you in the coming weeks.

Postcard from Ephesus

Pop quiz: Where in the world are the famous ruins of Ephesus? While the ancient Greeks founded the city and the Romans brought it to its heyday in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, in our modern times, visiting one of the Mediterranean’s largest ruins requires a trip to Turkey.

We spent two days exploring Efes, as the Turks call it. Though just 15 percent of the ancient city has been excavated, it’s an impressive sight: marble streets lined with columns, a two-story library and a 25,000-person amphitheater, among many other buildings and statues. We walked through the ruins, imagining what it was like to live among such splendor.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones gawking at the beautiful stonework. Perhaps fitting for the former metropolis, Ephesus attracts huge crowds of visitors. While this could have been annoying, it proved to be entertaining. Our fellow tourists, seemingly inspired by their surroundings, performed for snapshots in ways we’d never seen before.

In front of columns and statues, dozens struck excited poses with their arms outstretched, as if saying “Ta-Da!” Others choose pouty disappointed faces, with hands on their hips, like sultry fashion models. Some men removed their shirts and strutted around the site like peacocks. Of course, with all the modeling going on, we couldn’t resist sneaking a few shots of our own.

Maybe the intense summer sun and 100°F heat made everybody a bit giddy. Or perhaps the bacchanal spirit of the early Romans still thrives at Ephesus today.