Wide Awake in Wonderland

We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while

Into the Woods November 27, 2008

Filed under: Adventure,food,humor,Life,Travel — wideawakeinwonderland @ 11:30 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

(Do you remember this musical? I never actually saw it, but I had the soundtrack so I kind of feel like I saw it. Although I didn’t. And now the song is in my head.)

Canoeing across the lake

Canoeing across the lake

Anywho, some friends have an annual Thanksgiving party up at a lakeside resort. They rent a huge cabin and anywhere from 20 to 30 people come and hang and stand around by the bonfire and eat way too much. I’m headed there in a few hours for tonight’s breaking in period. It’s almost like a fast to prepare for the binging ahead, as tonight’s meal is soup (although no one may be able to keep me out of the appetizers I prepared. I’m ready to feast!) Our Thanksgiving meal is a day late, so at least I’ll still be able to button my pants until some time tomorrow afternoon.

I’m looking forward to playing some games, eating some good food, and hopefully catching up on some reading and writing. With any luck, I may even make a few bucks. Last year I was offered $200 to strip nude and jump into the lake. I didn’t do it.

The bonfire (a.k.a. The Man Fire)

The bonfire (a.k.a. The Man Fire)

This year, I’m unemployed, and headed on a two week trip to the east coast next week. I’m thinking if I can get a pool going and get the pot up to $300 or more, they may just have a deal. Presuming I can find a wifi or internet connection of some kind, I’ll keep you posted as to my fund raising efforts.

Otherwise, I hate to cut this short, but with the burden of a todo list as long as my arm to address before I can hit the road, I must bid you adieu. In the meantime, you can enjoy some pictures from last year’s events. Happy Thanksgiving (or Happy Thursday depending upon where you live and what holidays you observe)! Bon appetit!




It’s always good to have a backup plan October 27, 2008

In case you were starting to worry about my job prospects based on my faith based plan to transition to a writing career, you may be relieved to hear I’ve gotten some alternative offers. Saturday I received my first marriage proposal of the trip. Should things not work out for me back at home, I have been invited to live out my days running a cheap hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. This arrangement was suggested during the ride to the airport, along with pleas not to leave or to return immediately after the marathon. At first I was offered the role of business partner, and then my impending departure encouraged him to put all the cards on the table. When my young suitor sensed I wasn’t going to go for it, the ante was upped with promises of regular picnics, fishing trips, and all-night clubbing with the hotel guests in the summers. I’ve hit an age where all-night sleeping is WAY more appealing than all-night clubbing, but I guess this is one of those differences that keeps things spicy?

If you think it sounds aggressive – if not preposterous – to propose to a hotel guest you’ve known for less than 24 hours, then you clearly haven’t spent much time in Turkey.

I had heard the men were pushy in their zeal to sell carpets, trinkets, and fish dinners – and they are – but I seem to be attracting an additional level of attention. For those of you that aren’t naturally aggressive and would like to try these moves on the next interesting female you see, I offer this step-by-step outline:

  1. Make eye contact and stare into her eyes as if you are trying to bore into her very soul. Think about pictures you’ve seen of Charlie Manson or Saddam Hussein and try to emulate that semi-insane and super intense ferocity

  2. Continue stare for as long as humanly possible while simultaneously mustering courage for step three

  3. Break the ice with a cheap and easy pick up line. “Where are you from?” is exceedingly popular, but innocuous. You won’t be original, but you probably won’t send her into a high speed run in the other direction. This is also best-directed at someone you’re pretty sure doesn’t live next door. If you want to mix it up, some other options include:

      • Are you from Heaven?
      • I would like to make your holiday better.

      • Do you know this word, “Gorgeous?”

      • My friend and I have a bet. Are you from <<<insert country here>>> (helps if you have a friend)

      • Buy her a mussel from a street vendor (I fell for this one, and that is how I met Octopus Man)

Octopus Man was no doubt the worst of them, although Carpet Man and Blue Mosque Man were contenders. And, in the hopes you will find it entertaining and perhaps educational, I will share the moves and highlight the fumbles.

Carpet Man: 21 or 22 years old – Stopped my friend and I on the street outside a carpet shop in Sultanahmet. We cannot remember if the pickup line had to do with where we were from (my recollection) or “Can you tell me the most famous thing about Turkey?” The latter line was used at some point, and I guessed carpets and then kebap, but the correct answer was “hospitality!” We were then invited in for apple tea (they all try to get you with the apple tea). However on this occasion, my friend seemed open to it (probably the cold and rain as much as anything) so I went along with her.

I sat on the far end of the couch, and left her with the middle, next to him. Other young men emerged from elsewhere in the store or on the street, and wanted to discuss American politics, the U.S. banking system, and how long Slovenia has been on the euro. Carpet Man seemed disgruntled and moved to the other end of the store to look at a newspaper. At some point, the discussion turned to hammams (the Turkish baths), and where we should go.

A voice that sounded like a robot announced, “I give good massage. I give good massage.” Carpet Man was back in the action. “You do not waste your money on hammam. I massage you best.” We declined, and he waved me over, “Come here. I give you massage. You no like, you leave.” Then he tried to get me to go upstairs because “he had something to show me.” Yikes. What am I? 15 years old?

At this point, I was glad I hadn’t drank the tea (which tasted like hot apple cider). I’m such a paranoiac that after one sip I realized that if he’d slipped something in it, I wouldn’t be able to taste it. Then I noticed that my friend had drained hers dry – one of us needed to be sober enough to get us out of there!

The massage offers were endless, and he eventually placed himself on the arm of the couch just inches away from me. “I’ll massage your legs!” he cried out. Now, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m really horribly sore in my thighs…but there’s no amount of sore that would cause me to go for that. We got up, and as we were walking out, he commented that I had very nice legs, grabbed both my calves, and pleaded for us to come back tomorrow.

Critical blunder: Excessive aggressiveness

Blue Mosque Man: early to mid-30s – Approached us as my friend was taking a picture of me in front of the Aya Sofia. “I will make picture for you!” was the ice breaker. He worked through the usual rigmarole (where from, how long here, what have you seen), to which I kept replying that we were in a hurry and thank you very much, but no thank you. Then I went back to trying to pose for the photo.

At this point, Blue Mosque Man (still standing next to my friend) starts saying, “She is very pretty. Don’t you think she is very beautiful?” Uncomfortable photo completed, I tried to get us out of there by mentioning that we were rushing off to the Blue Mosque. He said that we needed to hurry, because it was closing soon.

My friend had been in Istanbul a couple weeks ago and went into the mosque at 7pm, so she vaguely implied that she thought he might be mistaken. From there, he demanded to know why she thought he was lying. As we approached the mosque, I stopped to take a photo. At this point, I was pretty sure I heard him ask, “Where are you from? Are you from Mars?” I took a couple pictures as they walked away together. As I just about caught up to her, he turned around and walked toward me. “Oh great,” I thought…and then he walked right past me without a word. When I caught up to her, he had apparently been incredibly obnoxious and even mean to her! This, I think, only works with women who are into being abused.

Critical blunder: Unfounded rudeness

Octopus Man: 25 (he showed us his ID, born in 1983) – You can buy a wide variety of foods from the Istanbul street vendors – corn on the cob, cashews, rice and garbanzo beans, sesame bagels, and mussels. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t feel compelled to try them all. I stopped to ask if the mussels were raw, and the vendor cut one open and presented it to me. “Is it raw? Is it raw!?” I kept asking, but he didn’t speak enough English to answer. He’d already cut it open, so I felt compelled to take it. It was, by the way, totally disgusting. It had all this bumpy stuff – like eggs or something. I like mussels, but this was sick. Are they all that way raw!?!?

Anyway, a guy in a suit showed up and ate a few mussels. When I tried to figure out if I needed to pay the vendor, it was clear that the suit guy (later to be re-dubbed Octopus Man) had taken care of it. I thanked him, and we walked away.

Seconds later, he came up alongside us with the typical questions. His English was abysmal, so we slipped into silence and continued walking. He trailed along all the way. Then he started reaching out via pantomime. “Do you dance?” he asked me. (and if I’d had the words, “Not well” would be the accurate answer. I try to avoid dancing because I have no natural sense of rhythm and am quite a pitiful sight.) We tried to explain about the marathon the next morning and were not partying and needed our sleep, but it wasn’t getting through.

He spent a lot of time on his phone, and eventually communicated that he had friends that spoke good English. He wanted me to come with him to meet them. Obviously this was not going to happen.

I had a list of Turkish words translated into English given to me by Orhan, and I pulled it out to see if it would help. In response to my sorry attempts to communicate, he put his arm around me and squeezed in a “You’re so cute” kind of way. But then the arm didn’t leave. And then he kept trying to kiss my cheek. I kept looking at my friend – now laughing uncontrollably – and mouthing the words HELP ME. I would slip out of his grip, and he would come back twice as strong. I remember reading that if you SCUBA with giant squid they will wrap themselves all around you. The same can be said for young Turkish men who buy you a disgusting raw street mussel.

Anyway, as we walked down the street, my friend got stuck in the role of translator, even though she doesn’t speak Turkish. At one point, he pulled out his wallet, which she understood to mean he wanted to know how old I was. “I’m old,” I told him, “OLD. Too old or you,” but he didn’t understand, and kept looking at me deliriously.

Having been through this the night before with Orhan who had seen my passport and still didn’t believe me, I really didn’t want to go through this again. Octopus Man was telling us that he was 25, and started guessing my age. “21?” he guessed. No. “22?” On it went. When we got to 27, he pulled out his wallet again, apparently thinking we didn’t understand what he was asking.

“Just agree,” I told her. “Tell him anything. I do NOT want to get into this with this guy.”

The numbers started over. Eventually, she nodded to him, “Yes. 26. She’s 26.” He hugged me again in sheer bliss. By now we were to the hostel, and said goodbye. After thwarting yet another attempted kiss, he touched me on the cheek, “Baby face,” he said, smiling down at me, “Baby face…”

No kidding, baby face. You have no idea, my friend. NO IDEA.


How can I be sore THERE!? October 4, 2008

The look of relief, as I drag myself out of yet another tight spot

The look of relief, as I drag myself out of yet another tight spot

Yesterday, after getting to Budapest, I went off to face the ATM for the first time since Venice, Italy. Although I tried to remain positive, I did feel a slight shiver of fear as I put my card in. I keyed in my PIN, got to the page where you select your withdrawal amount…and got confused. The amounts offered were 5, 10, 20, 40, 50. This might make sense in Lativa, where one Lat is worth about $2 USD. But here in Hungary, the Forint is trading at around 175F to $1. In other words, 1000F is less than $6.

These are the moments that make you feel like a giant dope. Were they truncating the amounts (i.e. 5 = 500? 50 = 50,000?) Had I misunderstood the exchange rate? This was Budapest, Hungary right??? What year is this? Who am I? Why is Madonna more famous in Europe than in America? What would you do for a Klondike bar?

Anyway, long story short, I am pleased to report a happy ending. Not only did I learn that you have select “other amount” and key in what you want (it feels super weird to key 200,000 into an ATM!), but it WORKED!!! The machine gave me money!!! Hallelujah! My ATM card really is back in the game.

Armed with what sounds like a ton of money, but really isn’t, I learned I had a choice to make. I had wanted to go to the Kiraly Baths on the Buda side of the city. Monday/Wednesday/Friday are female-only days, and yesterday was my one shot in that regard. However, Monday/Wednesday/Friday are also the only days you can take a guided tour through the caves outside the city, and the tour was leaving in 35 minutes. There are other baths open over the weekend (mixed gender), but I only had one opportunity to go caving. I changed into my sneakers and took off for the meeting place.

The woman in front of me, squeezing into yet another tiny space

The woman in front of me, squeezing into a tiny space. My ponytail filled with dirt during this section!


It was rush hour, so it took an incredibly long time to get there (via public transportation), but you eventually arrive at a little lodge/restaurant in the hills outside Buda. You’re outfitted with horrible grungy coveralls (mine was about four sizes too big and made me look like a member of the United Steelworkers Union), and inexplicably moist (later revealed as the sweat of the previous wearer. Ick.) hardhats. I shoved my camera into the giant front pocket, and we were off.

Caving is one of those experiences where if you suspect you might be claustrophobic, you’ll know for sure within fifteen minutes. I’m okay with tight spaces, although I don’t make a habit of forcing myself into them. Nonetheless, I’d pick that any day over serious heights.

Thus, it’s a bit harrowing to begin the tour by descending 100 feet down a ladder into the start of the caves. It’s already dark, so you really don’t realize how deep it is, until you’re climbing…and climbing…and climbing…and you still can’t see the lights on anyone’s hard hard. Once you get down, the real adventure begins.

For the next three hours you are led through a labyrinth of caves, and often via spaces that truly do not look big enough for a human body. A small cat, maybe, but not a whole person. At this point, these routes are well-traveled but I kept thinking about the people who originally went in there and found these ridiculous pathways.

The entrance to the Pál-Vőlgyi caves

The entrance to the Pál-Vőlgyi caves

They say ‘never say never’, but I can absolutely guarantee you that you will never in this lifetime hear me say, “Hey! There’s some caves no one has explored! Let’s go in them, and crawl through holes to see if we fit!” NEVER.

However, with a friendly Hungarian tour guide and a lopsided hardhat to protect me…why not!? There were seven of us in the group, and he decided to take us on the harder route. I’m pretty small, so I didn’t ever have a moment where I felt stuck or didn’t think I could make it through something, but it is pretty crazy to be crawling through a space so tiny that you have to turn your head sideways to fit.

It’s strangely exhilarating too…and far more physically strenuous than I would have imagined. You often have to kick yourself into a space with your arms stretched in front of you, flailing like some kind of failed evolutionary experiment. The fish that climbed out onto land, but didn’t quite make it off the shore. When you’re climbing back up and out of the caves, it’s like pulling yourself out of a tight, curved, slippery swimming pool…without the advantages of water buoyancy. It’s also a core workout like none the world has seen before, although I’m not really sure how to translate it into a routine that could be done at home. I woke up this morning feeling as still as a 100 year old woman. Even my bones ache.

Besides overworking every muscle in your body, you also spend a lot of time on all fours, which HURTS. I eventually mumbled that I could really use some knee pads, and the guide laughed and pointed to his Power Rangers-like outfit (quite a bit more snazzy than my Jiffy Lube uniform), to let me know he had some on. At least I had the helmet, because I hit my head at least 15 times. And whacked my elbows. And pounded my tail bone. And did something that has resulted in a big bruise on my hip. But I would do it all again. Tomorrow, if the tour were on Sundays.

I remember this moment as stressful and strenuous, but apparently I was enjoying myself from the look on my face!

I remember this moment as stressful and strenuous, but apparently I was enjoying myself from the look on my face!

It was super fun in a scary/exhilarating way. At the end of the tour, he offered us the option to go about 30 meters (90 feet) in total darkness. Caving, he told us, is a group effort, so we would have to take direction from the person in front of us, and help the person behind us.

Then we all switched off our head lamps and got started. We began holding hands and being shown (via touch) the walls ahead of us. I would inch forward a foot, and then stop and show the path to the girl behind me. Then there was a small climb up into a tube, after which you had to switch to a seated position and slide out. All the while you’re trying to make sure you understand what’s coming, while making sure to take care of the person behind you (who is in turn doing the same).

Then we got on our hands and knees, holding onto one another’s ankles in a train. I kept thinking I could see light or see things, but I proved that theory wrong when I tried to sit up (convinced I could see that there was space above me) and clanged my helmet into the ceiling for about the 20th time that day.

Emerging from the birth canal for the second time in my life...

Emerging from the birth canal for the second time in my life...

In a stupid way, it was strangely comforting. The Hungarians used the caves as a bomb shelter during WWII, and I kept thinking how awful it would have been to be down there in the dark, wondering if the world would end, or if you’d ever find your way out of this blasted cave to see it again. Navigating this way, I saw that it was actually possible (at least if the person in front knew the caves a bit or was willing to take some knocks to figure out what was coming) and not really that bad. In fact, it was kind of heartwarming, the way any sort of ‘trust experiment’ with other people (particularly strangers) restores your faith that in a pinch, we all really would help each other out.