Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Filliasco

Okay, due to lack of blogginess in AGES, I am gonna do a full-court press. The goal: plugging em out as fast as possible.
First order of business: meeting my master.

I love Nathan Fillion. I am a full-blown Whedonite, and I encountered Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff, Angel) through his short-lived, tragically doomed show Firefly, which I think is one of the greatest pieces of televisionary art ever produced. Nathan Fillion starred in it as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a Han Soloesque leader of a band of misfits and defeated revolutionaries. They fly through space in their ship Serenity (Firefly class) smuggling goods, riding horses, brawling in saloons and generally being Big Damn Heroes. Nathan Fillion is currently busting up ratings as Richard Castle in the ABC show of that surname. (Surname: common Britspell for “last name,” used on everything, most notably entry cards into the U.K., which throw me off every time. Common usage: “What the crap is a surname? Claire?”)

Here’s a little background for you. Nathan has a MySpace. I created an account so I could friend him, so he would have to look at my profile picture for at least two seconds. Stalker points: 1. Nathan has twitter. I joined twitter so…I could follow Nathan. Stalker points: 2. Nathan tweeted that he was coming to London. I decided to study abroad here so…just kidding. That was pure serendipity.

RT:nathanfillion: London calling! The Guards Chapel Wellington Barracks, Nov 6! Come see I will be there!! Can't wait to see you

Thus begins the greatest encounter/epic debacle with fame I have ever experienced.

RT:nathanfillion If you are coming to see me in London I want to know. Sound off for the Complete Hero project!

RT:me @nathanfillion I'll be there with some friends. How do you feel about catching drinks with some college kids from Notre Dame?

RT:me heading to the Globe for class. Highly anticipating meeting the Captain tomorrow night.

RT:nathanfillion Ahhh, Paddington. Just as I remembered you.

And there was a pic of Paddington, which was, like, MINUTES from me via tube. I spend the entire day preoccupied with thoughts of Nathanness, our causal meeting, friendly chat, the invitation to get drinks at the Sherlock Holmes pub, instant friendship, advice on his character, an internship in LA this summer, etc.

RT:nathanfillion Sound off, London!!

RT:me @nathanfillion Welcome to the city - crisp weather just for you!

I had gathered a fine gaggle of geeks and interested onlookers – ten in all. We met at the ND centre and walked to the Guard’s Chapel to see Monsieur Filliohn!

We arrived and were handed headphones with which to view the public art project, a 25 min. video of people explaining what a hero means to them. Nathan had contributed and was attending the Gala that evening. The video was showing from 5 – 9. We got there at 5:15. And watched it. And waited. And waited. Finally I went up to one of the Army guys running it and asked when Nathan Fillion was going to arrive (no shame, none). Learned that the Gala would begin at 6:30. I gathered the troops (mine, not the Queen’s) together to deliberate.

We had about 45 min. till the Gala started, and then who knew when Nathan would arrive? Six peaced, not willing to brave the rain (yes, setting the scene nicely) to meet a man most of them didn’t know. So four of us were die-hards, true Flans, Whedonites with a mission undeterred. I looked around. Awkward looking kid in a brown coat standing near the bushes? He’s here for Nathan. Large, middle-aged woman with long hair and a goody bag? Yup, she’s here for Nathan, too. So we stand together, little blips of Jossy joy in a sea of otherwise upper crust Londonite Society here to view Art, braving rain, time, and nervous energy.

It was raining, hellza raining, and I refused to put on my fleece because who knows when Nathan will walk by and I am NOT having anything taint my perfectly chosen picture outfit. So we stood. And stood. And watched and stood.

Lo, from the depths of the crowd, giant in stature and sneaky under an umbrella, came The Captain. I spotted him, ran up and stood directly in front of him with a grin that would probably have cracked light bulbs. “HI…can I get a picture with you?” The ever-obliging master said sure and I fumbled with my camera. Think, think, something witty… “We’ve been waiting an hour and a half…” CRAP! WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SAY THAT FOR?

“Well, then, let’s go!” I thrusted my camera at Mike. SNAP. No flash. Oh, crap, no flash and that was my one shot at the photo of my LIFE and now it’s gone and “Sorry can we take another the flash wasn’t on I’m so sorry Captain I kinda just blew your cover hold on here give it to me okay.” SNAP. Bam! Said the lady.

Nathan is now surrounded by flans who have come out of the woodwork. He is bombarded by snap-flashing folks all wanting their shot with Glory. I now feel awful, for it is becoming quite clear that all he wants to do is watch the project, whereas I have single-handedly ruined his anonymity. Oh, woe is me! To be such a beast! Might I grovel at the feet of one who shalt forgive!

He finally calms the crowd down enough to look up and watch the show. He stood there with his umbrella, next to his parents (am I that creepy? Did you really have to ask?) and watched it.

And then I did this. And then I felt bad. But not really.

There are moments, see, moments that come upon us which we do not anticipate or understand. They are the moments that define us, that separate us from the fantasy images we have created of ourselves. When I saw myself meeting Nathan, it was nonchalant, mutual, indoors. I was a calm, suave, educated person with interesting parlay and insightful witticisms. Instead I stood there in the rain, mouth hanging open, blatantly staring at Nathan like a large, uninhibited buffalo. I studied his nose, his chin, his coat. And in that moment I knew, knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, I am the creeper fan I always denied existed, that creature from my nightmares who chases celebrities down streets and sobs when they pelvic thrust. And I do believe, in my heart, that if Nathan had pelvic thrusted in that moment I would have passed out, weeping.

My next consciousness came when I realized that Mr. Mr. Fillion had walked out in front of Mr. Fillion to take a photo of his son. Mike and I, in complete synchronization, leaned right like a pair of Gumby characters in an attempt to get in the shot. Naught was said. We straightened back and continued to stare.

Soon the artiest who created the project came up and started chatting Nathan. He introduced his parents (“I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WITNESSING A REAL-LIFE CONVERSATION OF NATHAN FILLION”) and conversed wittily with the creator. (I know it was witty. I just know it.) Soon someone rapped the shoulder of the artiest and the Nathan convo was put on hold. This was our chance. “GO MIKE, GO!”

We ran around to Nathan and I thrust a CD in a plastic baggie at him. He looked down at it confusedly. “It’s a compilation – British artists – listen to it later!” (No, listen to it now, in the middle of the Gala. Stupid! Stupid!) For those who’ve asked, the CD was NOT a recording of me singing the Firefly theme song nineteen times. People, I am not THAT bad. Okay, I mean…

Mike asked if he could get a photo. I took it. Bam! Said the lady. Mike, smiling like a school boy but managing to keep some semblance of tact said, “Mr. Fillion, I’m a film major, and I just wanted to say that it’s people like you who remind me that the industry isn’t shit.” True, beauteous, flawless words. Words with meaning, forethought, and intent. Complimentary, even. How did he manage to find those words?

“Oh, where are you from?”

“I’m from Chicago–”

And then it happened, the word-vomit that was building up inside of me, my meek attempt at respectable communication. Something about Chicago reminded me of Notre Dame, and before I knew it “WE BOTH GO TO NOTRE DAME WANT TO GET DRINKS WITH US AFTER THIS YOUR PARENTS CAN COME I’VE TWEETED AT YOU MULTIPLE TIMES??!?!”

I should have been smote.

“Ah, we have plans.”

And thus, he departed.

I returned home wet, freezing, and with no voice. I had made a mockery of myself, bypassing any hope I’d had at avoiding being That Fan, the kind of fan that shames the Browncoat legion. I had met the Captain, but I had failed miserably in communication. But frustration was short lived, for the digital pixels containing The Photo burned luminously in my camera, and my heart was content. I got back into the flat and began to tell the tale, realizing quickly that I had no voice. None. Lost, gone forever into the void that was The Encounter. Do I believe in Karma? Dude.

The moral of the story is that I should never be let near anyone famous, or anyone I idolize. Because they might end up looking like this:

Nathan, who looks like he wants to eat me. Or push me off a cliff. Or eat me and then barf over a cliff.

Nathan Fillion, wherever you are, I am a fan. I am a creeper. I am a stalker. I have no shame. I know this now. But I still love you, and maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll reply to my tweet asking if you’ve listened to the CD.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Dublin, Anuna and the Alleluiah

Being that I attend the great University of Notre Dame, home of the Fighting Irish, Ireland is near and dear to my heart. It’s impossible to attend the university and not gain some insights into the Irish culture, or a least a great appreciation for the isle itself (and I’m not just talking St. Patrick’s Day, here).

Why Ireland, you ask? Well, after we booked our flights to Istanbul, with intentions of traveling to Prague or Krakow or Cairo, we realized that one does not fly from Istanbul to Prague or Krakow, and flights to Cairo are the cost of a small elephant. So, what to do? Well, I was campaigning to take the train to Baghdad. (Plenty of cute American guys my age, right?) But for some reason, Claire and Dan vetoed it. How bout fly back to London and see where we could get from there? The choice was Ireland, to see Dublin and then go down to Wexford to stay with friends.

We packed up our stuff at the Birbs, checked out (Hello, here’s our key…that’s it for checkout? Can we stuff our bags with breakfast food now?) and made it down to the Tramvay. There was no spiffy shuttle this time, so it’s us & Kebab, the trusty suitcase, banging down the alley to the main drag. Three of us, with overloaded backpacks, Kebab, and The Hair, swerving past barkers and business men. We stuffed onto the Tramvay, switched to the Funicular, and got on the bus back to the airport.

Touchdown in London. And into Customs. “Hello, I’m an American, studying here, but I went to Turkey on holiday, and I actually gotta go catch a flight to Dublin…”

Then came the experience with RyanAir. Granted, the return flight cost us a pound (uno poundo) but still, the weight restrictions were a little ridiculous. Our 25kg bag for EasyJet had to get down to 15kg, and our carryons could only be 10kg. Cue the three of us unpacking Kebab wildly in the corner of Gatwick airport. Turkish coffee, love tea, and dirty laundry were unceremoniously stuffed into our backpacks. Dirty socks were crammed into the crevices between books and underwear went in plastic bags tied onto the front of backpacks. 20kg! 18kg! 16kg! JUST WEAR THE DAMN SWEATER!! Thus we created the incomparable image of Claire wearing every last warmer on her person, with her purse tied close and stuffed underneath three sweaters, giving her the look of a very large, pregnant woman. I had CD’s and my player stuffed into pockets and my bulky headphones around my neck, and clothes stuffed in the pockets of my fleece which was on top of my jacket. Thus we checked our pitifully empty Kebab, and thus we boarded the plane.

Because RyanAir is so cheap, they think it their responsibility to remind you how little you paid for the flight by making everything else you experience on the flight overtly painful. Such as the same ridiculously cliché 15-second piece of classical music looping from the minute you board till takeoff. It got to the point that I put my sound-cancelling headphones on and blasted my Irish prepatory music just to drown out the sound until takeoff, with the attitude of, I don’t care if I’m not supposed to listen to electronics, if I have to listen to this pap one more time I WANT the plane to crash.

I survived. We arrived.

After getting off the bus in the heart of Dublin, we began our midnight journey through its streets to our hostel. Many twists and turns (and Kebab bounces) later, we found it. Enter: My first hostel experience. We were staying in a six man. When we entered our room, we found one middle aged man asleep. He promptly awoke and greeted us. He was Polish. He began to regal us with tales for the next hour, till we made it very clear we wanted to sleep. Within this hour I made one fatal mistake: I mentioned I, too, had Polish ancestry. This made me his new best friend, and after I had climbed up into my bunk, leaned back and put my eye mask on, I felt someone tap my hand. I looked up and it was Polish Dude, who wanted kiss my hand goodnight. This thoroughly freaked me out. But eh, we survived.

Our day in Dublin was very fun. We started at Christ Church Cathedral, and were disappointed to find it, too, once was a Catholic Church but is no longer. Helas. It was cool, especially the mummified cat and mouse that fell into an organ pipe on display in the dungeon museum.

We then walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Fooled again! Church of Ireland. But it is right next to where St. Patrick (the Catholic) supposedly did some big digs. This is also where we met up with Emily, who also goes to ND but is studying at University College Dublin. Hooray, reunions!

Emily took us to Grafton Street. Now, if you are a Dido fan, this is when you cue up my favorite track from her most recent album, fittingly titled “Grafton Street.” The first thing Dan yelled when we hit it was, “This was in ‘ONCE’!” And indeed it was! We walked up and down the hippest walk in Dublin, looking at shops and ogling food. We stopped in for food and the BEST hot chocolate I have ever had. the ROCKIES!!!!!

Then we came to it, the eternal Dublin tourist attraction. The Guinness Tour. Everything I never knew I never wanted to know about beer. Now, I don’t particularly enjoy drinking a) because it tasted bad and b) because I don’t like what alcohol does to my body. Hence, why spend the money? So I walked through the building casually taking in how to make beer, trying to care…But it was great when we hit the Gravity bar, which has a 360 view of Dublin, which we hit as the sun was setting. I went to the bar, and ordered a Coke.

That night we went to O’Neill’s for drinks and then around to a few other pubs (names of which I can’t recall, but not for drinking – I had water everywhere we went). Back to the hostel, and getting to bed as quickly and quietly as possible to avoid waking up the Pole.

Entertainment at O'Neill's

Maggie Malloy - designed by a 13 year old?

The next morning we packed up and trundled through UCD, whose roads, I must say, were not made for rolly suitcases. After that we boarded the bus to Wexford, and an adventure of unbelievable proportions.

The two hour bus ride ended up taking four (or five?). I needed to pee at about an hour and a half. Jesus heard my cries of anguish, and to quell my inner turmoil, the girl who ended up sitting next to me was a student from UCD who lives in Wexford. The next few hours were spent picking each other’s brains about school systems, getting into college, pop culture, and our country’s perception of the other. She was one cool dude, and now we’re facebook friends!

The bus ride itself was beautiful. We drove next to the coastline for a good while. Ireland really is green – overwhelmingly so! Lots of sheep and hills. I will now take the time to explain exactly where we were going.

I am a member of the University of Notre Dame Folk Choir, a choir dedicated to liturgical ministry through the music of the people (“folk” music). The choir has had a relationship with the Diocese of Wexford for decades, and we’ve gone over to Ireland many times to give concerts and have established a relationship with their community. This year Notre Dame, with the help and support of the Diocese of Wexford, has established Teach Bhride (the House of Bridget), a liturgical initiative started by three graduates from the choir who now live in Wexford.

“Teach Bhride is a lay community of Christian men and women, dedicated to service of the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, and the Diocese of Ferns, in County Wexford, Ireland. The community's labors are to be rooted in giving permission, especially to young adults and the disenfranchised, to explore and articulate their faith and their spiritual lives: this is to be accomplished by way of song, story, devotional and sacramental celebration.” – Teach Bhride weblog,

They moved into their newly built house in August, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to go visit them and get the DL on their new digs since arriving in London.

Clonard Parish, with an American flag just for them!

We FINALLY arrived in Wexford and were greeted by Martha who shuffled us into a car. Fr. John Paul drove us up to his house (he’s the parish priest) and we went in. We were led into a back room and – BOOM – met with the most fantastic scene I have ever seen. Tables full of people and FOOD! The Bishop had blessed their house earlier that day, and there was a dinner to honor the project, attended by priests, parishioners, the director of the Folk Choir and his wife, and us measly college kids on fall break. Talk about perfect timing. I saw down and was immediately asked by a priest in an apron if I’d like red or white wine.

There were magnificent speeches from the Bishop and all those who helped get the project of the ground. I have never been so proud of my fellow choristers. I kept thinking, how did I get here? How did we pick this weekend, this evening to arrive, and end up sharing a meal with over twenty Irish people who have no idea who we are but want to feed us and talk to us and make us laugh?

After dinner we moved into the parlor/family room and sat around in chairs drinking whisky and wine. A retired nun brought our her accordion, and pretty soon the room was filled with music ranging from James Taylor and John Denver to Irish ballads and drinking songs. Penny whistles and guitar strings rang out and everyone joined it or added harmony. Who are these people? Where did they come from? How did I land here? Dan, Claire and I spent the evening with stars in our eyes, baffled beyond belief that we had just walked in upon such a fantastic scene, and that we could be privy to such musical events. That may have been the best night of my life. I don’t think I stopped smiling for seven hours.

The best part was that it was the strangest homecoming imaginable. Here I was in a place I’ve never been before, surrounded by people from what seems like an old life. My director Steve Warner, his wife Michele, our grad assistant Haley, all in from America brought with them stories of Notre Dame and the year’s events. I sat with Chris, Martha and Carolyn, my dear Carolyn, who had been my mentor through many trials and triumphs at school, now sitting upon two years of adventure in Ireland. Friends I had watched graduate I found once again, living their lives so beautifully and with such conviction in a little town I could have never imagined before.

The next day we received the Grand Tour of Wexford. And what should we happen upon? The weekend we visited was the weekend of the Wexford Opera Festival, and the town was all done up for the occasion. We popped into one of the twin churches and saw a choir rehearsing. We sat down, and about three minutes into it, it hit me – I’ve heard this group before…somewhere…and then as we were leaving, they started a song a definitely recognized! ANUNA! One of my most FAVORITE choirs, you may know them for their work providing the music Riverdance. And here they were, performing one of the songs off of a most prized album in my eyes. I sat back down and covertly recorded a few snippets under the pew. Fantastic. The concert? Sold out. No matter – I got my thrill!

That evening we went to Mass at the parish, and I joined the choir for the evening. I even got to play the tambourine for “How Can I Keep From Singing.” (Talk about utter musical fulfillment.) There was a reception afterwards with tea and some of the best little cake things I’ve ever had. Claire and sat and chatted with the ladies of the parish as Dan discussed something with another parishioner down the table. Claire and I kept looking at each other thinking, how did we get here? How did we land in the middle of this fantastic community, being offered food and music at every turn?

The evening ended at Simon’s pub, the pub of choice, which was hosting the evening’s Singing Pubs Competition for the opera festival. We packed in with what seemed like hundreds of the parish’s closest friends and listened to a song from each of the competitors, ranging from drinking songs to Irish ballads to O Mio Babino Caro. If we knew it, we joined in! It was after the competition ended that the most moving moment of fall break took place: one of the musicians began to play “Alleluiah,” and the whole pub joined in. The chorus rang with the impromptu harmonies of hundreds of Irish people, opera aficionados and three Americans. Thus our international adventure came to a close.

The next morning we woke up, suited up, and walked into town to catch the bus back to Dublin. All was well until we realized – we’re twenty minutes out and our bus leaves in ten! RUN! So here we go again. Couldn’t possibly make it through the trip without a panic run. Off we go, dashing through the streets of Wexford, banding poor, dreary Kebab over the cobblestones. “Claire, run ahead and tell him to wait!” She was off, leaving her scarf flailing in the wind. I grabbed it as me and Dan took turns throwing Kebab’s handle back and forth, darting passed tourists and townies. When we finally reached the bus stop, I ran up to the door and saw a woman sitting docilely in the front. “Don’t worry, you’re not late. The bus doesn’t leave for half an hour! Your friend is getting coffee.” I turn around and there’s Claire holding a Styrofoam cup, with a deadpan to be rivaled. Oh, well. It wouldn’t have been a real trip without a panic run.

So we made it. On the bus, on the plane, on the train to Victoria, and then home. Ten days spanning the entire continent of Europe (and even into Asia!). From the slums of Istanbul to the streets of Dublin, the Blue Mosque to Clonard Parish, these eyes will never be the same.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Istanballer, or, How the East Was Won

A’ight kids. It’s been two weeks. I realize this is a long time to go without a post from your friendly neighborhood Londoner, but I was out of town last week (creating such adventures as shall be chronicled below) and spent this week sifting through the experience so that I can bring the most entertaining, up-to-date, informative, comedic collection of anecdotes and histories possible. Now, if that isn’t worth waiting for, I don’t know what is. (Don’t you like how I completely justify blog laziness by telling you I’m just awesome? Truth is yet to be seen…)

SO. We awoke Friday morning and took the tube to the train to Luton airport. Public transportation I great, it’s just…time consuming. You can’t just jump in your car and go somewhere. But we got to the airport, checked the bag, and waited to board our EasyJet flight. I will take this time to explain to you The Bag.

The Bag we took is one of Claire’s suitcases. We decided to bring one checked bag because, well, ten days in the same pair of jeans is just grody. Clair and I split it. Dan managed to get everything he needed into his backpack, which weighed about a ton and looked like a brick of steel. In Turkey we lovingly named our bag Kebab, and Trusty Kebab was dragged everywhere, on every form on transportation, from Asia to Ireland. So whenever we are traveling, you must imagine Kebab, the poor little brown suitcase, getting more and more busted up as he is chucked and tossed in and out of the back alleys of Istanbul and over the hills of Wexford.

We boarded the plane for Istanbul and I slept through the flight in a daze of unbelief and adrenaline bursts and utter fear. I have never been to a non-English-speaking country. Let’s just say, this was learning to swim by jumping into the deep end. Without water wings.

We arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport midmorning. After changing money, we faced our first challenge: getting to the hotel. Shouldn’t be to hard, right? I mean, it’s a big airport, taking international flights….right? So here’s the issue: Istanbul is created out of three peninsulas meeting along the Bosphorous straight. There are bridges and ferries between them. Two are in Europe, one is in Asia. Guess where we were. YES. ASIA. WE FLEW INTO THE FREEKING ASIAN WILDERNESS. My dad had told me to “take a ferry to the other side of the Bosphorous at some point, just to put your feet on another continent.” Well, Daddy, WE HAD BEEN STOMPING ALL OVER ASIA FOR ABOUT AN HOUR. Who knew? (do Doo do DOO!) We had flown into the new airport, not the sixty year old, established Ataturk airport, which we had foolishly expected to arrive at.

A woman came up and asked us if we wanted to take a shuttle to our hotel. (Shuttle? Direct? Without creepy public transportation in Turkish?) We accepted and were loaded into a van along with an Australian backpacking couple and a German business man. We left the airport, pulled onto the freeway…and pulled over. “Five minute! Five minute! Sorry, my English not so good,” said our driver as he got out of the car. So, we were parked on the side of the freeway. For no apparent reason. This will be come a theme in Turkey: things stopping for no apparent reason.

Finally a car drove up behind us and two old ladies got into our van. Apparently, they wanted to shuttle, too, but the van had just left so we had to wait for them to catch up. Alright, this is unconventional, but not necessarily life threatening (except for the whole pulled over on the side of the freeway thing.) After dropping of the ladies at the Ritz Carlton (uh, yeah, not our stop) we got into our neighborhood in the old part of Istanbul. Let’s pause for a little Turkish histoire.

This city has been inhabited since Luke hit Endor, and will probably still be there after Whitefall is terraformed. (That just happened.) It became Constantinople when Constantine (no duh) moved the capital of the Roman empire there, which he had inherited as a Byzantine…or something historical. Byzantines rocked the peninsula for a few centuries, including through the Great Schism, whenceforth they were Greek Orthodox. Justinian, around the 8th century, decided to build a church, and ended up commissioning the most awe-inspiring architectural feat…ever, AKA, the Aya Sofya, or the Hagia Sophia. When the Ottoman Turks took over in the 1400’s, they converted everything to Mosques, including the Aya Sofya, and then build one to rival it, the Blue Mosque (St. Peter’s Basilica of Islam, maybe?). Ottoman Turks hung around the outskirts of Europe for a few centuries, until in the early 20th century Ataturk (“Father Turk”) pulled them into modernity, and called it “secularization.” Nowadays, there’s a bid to join the EU, women aren’t allowed to wear headscarves in Parliament and there’s a controversy over female students being allowed to wear headscarves within universities (since that’s against secularization, the policy since the thirties). Centuries of history, occupation by waves and waves of different people, and culture up the wazoo.

In other news, they just recently started using street names. And there are lanes, but nobody uses them. It's pretty much a free-for-all. So we get to our neighborhood area in Sultanahment (old Istanbul, one of the Euro peninsulas, not the hip one but the one with all the museums/tourist destinations). Our van driver yells out the window to a bunch of men asking for Hotel Birbey. They point him around the winding one-car-wide alleys until we arrive. Nice place for a couple of college students. Mostly occupied by Iranian couples who managed to give us death glares at breakfast every morning, and then a few confused German families. Our bathroom ceiling had a chronic drip right in the middle of the room, so you basically had to walk on the outsides to get to the sink, toilet and shower (slightly bigger than the Chokie).

Breakfast of Turkish Champions

Let’s talk about The Hair. I dyed my hair pink, as you know, but I didn’t really think about the fact that I was about to travel to a majority-Muslim country when I did it. So here I am, walking around Sultanahment with fuchsia hair, getting openly stared at by men in a culture where that is pretty taboo. I often walked by comments in broken English of “Hello I like your hair,” “You have pretty hair,” or “I like your hair color.”

Apple tea, the drink of choice anywhere and everywhere

When you walk down the street, there are barkers EVERYWHERE, asking you to come into their restaurant, look at their menu, buy their stuff, etc. Because we were so CLEARLY tourists, we were constantly haggled by everyone. Interesting thing, though. My hair, coupled with Dan’s ridiculous sunglasses, made us look particularly German. “Guten Tag! Hello!” Followed us a lot. Also, because people assumed we were from countries other than America and the UK, we got to act as if English was our second language, too, which made bartering a lot more interesting. If I didn’t like a price, I could just act like I didn’t know the word I was looking for. Playing a character made me feel a lot less obligated to buy things.

We were from different countries depending on the day. Iceland was our first choice. We went into a kebab café (Dan wanted to try some hookah) and decided we were students from the University of Reykjavik. This excited the manager a lot, and he came over to tell us he’d read in the newspaper about the issue we’ve been having with our pipes system. “Ah, yes, the pipes…tragic…” was all we could really say. Our waiter asked what the currency of Iceland was, and Claire brilliantly said the American Dollar, before I quickly corrected with the Icelandic Dollar. (Does anyone know what it's really called? Chrissy...)

The next day we were from Finland, ya. I had an accent the whole day. We attended the University of Helsinki. When one of the men at a spice stand in the Spice Bazaar asked us our names, I told him mine was Tarja (the name of the ex-lead singer of Nightwish, my favorite band, which happens to be from Finland). It made the pink hair all the more appropes. Funny thing was, though, after two days of being Finish I was stopped on the street by a man who asked me if I was from Finland. Apparently, word had gotten out…

First day there we went to the Hagia Sofia, the one place I had made a goal of getting to whilst in Europe (and the inspiration for the whole trip). It was kind of the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen with my eyeballs. Except for the whole big black structure taking up a quarter of the dome. They were renovating it and ran out of money, so they just sort of left it hanging out. For, like, forty years. Whevs.

There were many BRILLIANT mosaics, which had been uncovered after it was converted into a museum (after being covered when it was turned into a mosque). The whole building was like a history of religion in conflict. The mosaic of Gabriel was next to a large script name of Allah, and the Alter sanctuary area had been altered (jajaja) so that it pointed to Mecca, not Jerusalem. I stood where Empress Theodora sat during Orthodox services, and walked the halls where Sultan Mehmed II had led in the removal of Christian artifacts.

After that we went across the lawn to the Blue Mosque, a totally gorge building and, interestingly, the first mosque I’ve ever been in. (Go big or go home, right?) We didn’t have to cover our heads when we went in, but I’ll admit, I felt a little awk walking around with my bubblegum top. Interesting thing about mosques: there are no icons or pictures of any kind, just lots of intricate painting and tiling. It was very beautiful. There is not real alter or pews, just lots of luscious carpeting (which was nice, since we had to take our shoes off). The men prayed in the front, closer to the pointing-to-Mecca wall, and the women’s prayer area was in the back, behind the tourist corral. I borrowed Claire’s scarf and wrapped my locks up to go pray with the woman, and I slipped in for a minute to say an Our Father (am I allowed to do that?). It was very peaceful.

Next we it the Basilica Cistern. This cistern under the city was built by Justinian back in the day, and then just sort of forgotten. Fifty years or so ago someone realized people were getting fresh water from an unknown source, and many could just throw a fishing line down their water hole and come up with fish. Someone went investigating and BAM! A perfectly preserved cistern. What should we do with it? Slap a ticket booth on in and turn it into a tourist attraction, of course!

That evening we went to Taksim Square, on the European peninsula. We walked up and down the super-hip street, which was PACKED. Found the Catholic church, attended Mass in Turkish. It was kind of interesting to have gone to a Mosque during the day and ogled it, and then go to a church and see Muslims walking around, looking at the statues and icons. We went to a nice-ish restaurant and had the most amazing meal I have ever eaten. Then we got the check. Note to self: never let the waiter order. We thought we had ordered the cheapest items on the menu. Apparently not… So we were pretty much relegated to kebab stands for dinner for the rest of the trip.

Million Lira Meal

Well, actually only 123TYL

Next day we woke up, went outside and…were met by the largest wave of geriatric tourists I have ever seen. Thousands upon thousands moving slowly towards the museums, each with their Nokia cameras and Lonely Planet city guides. What had happened? Where did they come from? Their migration had even shut down the Tramvay. Then we realized: The Princess Cruise had docked last night. Oh, joy.

We went to Topkapi Palace, THE home of the Sultan for years and years. Basically, every Aladdin fantasy fulfilled. Actually, the stereotypes aren’t that far off. Sultan, Grand Vizier, Harem, the whole shebang. Saw everything from the fourth biggest diamond in the world to John the Baptist’s arm (does the Pope know about this?). My favorite thing: kiosks. They are gazeebo-esque rooms with couches and a fireplace, just sort of hanging out in the garden. They were named after battles. What a great thing to do! Hey, I just won an epic battle, and to commemorate it, I’m gonna build a KIOSK!! I’m gonna put some EPIC COUCHES in it so I can SIT AROUND ALL DAY!! I mean, these people knew how to party. Can you lounge in a statue? No. Note to self: when I rule the world, there won’t be statues honoring me, there will be puffy furniture everywhere.

Nothing says Harem quite like wax figurines.

I never want to see another tile as long as I live.

After the palace we went to the Archeological Museum. Now, I’m gonna make an observation here. Turkey is chock full of epic, historical places, and therefore artifacts from ancient history. They have SO MUCH OF IT they don’t even know what to do with it, so just sort of throw in into museums. We walked around bunches of sarcophagi just sort of hanging out in rooms, and hundreds of statues. Where are they from? How did we find them? What’s their significance? Dunno. It’s as if they keep digging them up and have so many they just ship them to museums. Maybe it’s because I’m from a place where mummies are so rare, so if you have one in a museum it’s a big deal.

Outside in the garden were a bunch of Grecian looking statues, many without heads. Which means photo opportunity, of course. I climbed up the back of one, wrapped my arms around it to steady myself, and felt something dusty in my hand…only to realize the statue was crumbling off into my palm. Which is when the Turkish security guard saw me. And scene…

After the hookah café (and the Icelandic Incident) we went to the shop of the first Turkish Delight purveyor. Now, I thought TD was gross, until I tried it in Turkey. TD is gelatinous squares covered in powdered sugar, and can range in flavor from cherry to pistachio. The original is rose, and it literally tastes like roses. We had a fantastic time picking it out, eating it at a table outside the shop, and having man behind the counter bring out more Turkish candy for us to sample, just because he liked us so much. (Hair? I was a bit of a novelty…) We walked back to the hotel through the ghetto of Sultanahment. I was getting pretty good at navigating our slice of the city.

Monday we went to the Kapalıçarşı (kapaleecharshee), or Grand Bazaar. It’s basically the biggest indoor shopping mall ever. There were hundreds of shops selling antique aladdin lamps and evil-eye jewelry. Twice I was stopped and asked if my hair color was natural. The first time I was like, ah, no. The second time it was most definitely natural, how could you ask such a thing? As we walked by stands selling scarves or Abercrombie knock-offs (seriously, Europe is obsessed with A&F, and forty year old men walk around in Hollister t-shirts – very strange) I would hear “Pink hair! Hello! Pink lady!” as every shop owner in 20 feet asked me to peruse his wares. I haggled a 45 lira bag down to 30, as Tarja from Finland. Bought a recorder tuned to the Turkish scale (harmonic, I believe).

After the Bazaar we walked (avoiding paying for a taxi/putting our lives on the line) to the Chora Church. It’s a chosque (church then mosque) from Constantine’s time that has some of the coolest mosaics ever (not that I really have much to compare it to). It was very interesting, especially since a good portion of the mosaics chronicled the life of Mary, as told in the proto-gospel of James. The best part was the Dormition of the Virgin mosaic, in which Jesus holds an infant, which is supposed to be Mary’s soul.

Baby Mary

Dormition of the Virgin

That night we went back into Taksim so Dan could try Raki, the Turkish drink of choice. We sat on the top of a restaurant and watched the city below, discussing film and futures.

Tuesday we took a ferry up the Bosphorous, and I saw the BLACK SEA WITH MINE OWN TWO EYES!!! We got on a commuter ferry that picked up from our side of Europe and dinged back and forth between it and Asia for a few good miles, finally ending at a small fishing village in Asia, far outside of Istanbul. We bought some baklava from a local bread shop and walked up an unnecessarily steep hill to an old Byzantine ruin, which apparently hadn’t been tagged for tourist attraction yet (it was free). We sat on a rock wall and ate our lunch (bread and eggs smuggled from breakfast, under the noses of the condescending Iranians, as usual). After lunch we decided to climb up the ruin as far as we could get. This process probably had the most intense I’m-glad-my-parents-aren’t-here-to-see-this moment, especially when I was dangling unaided from a vertical rock face. Good times.

It was upon this ruin that I realized something: We had done it. We had conquered this foreign city. I had followed a whim, a little blip of a thought that I had walking from South Quad to the library, in between O’Shag and Riley, that I wanted to see the Hagia Sophia. It had turned into a mission, which had turned into a trip, which had turned into the most epic journey of survival I have ever had. Every challenge I have faced in my life has been interpersonal or emotional. This is the first thing I have ever faced that was completely outside. It didn’t matter what I thought or how I felt, because we needed to get on the tramvay or find the church or get food, armed with nothing but a guidebook, a foldy map and pure cajones. I stood there, in Asia, looking at Europe, completely blown away by the fact that I had done it. I had come to Istanbul, wide-eyed and terrified, and in the midst of jeery looks and relentless barkers had managed to see everything, try anything, and generally have a great time in the process. I have never pushed myself so much or in such a way, and I think I can say I have never felt so proud.

After we docked back in Sultanahment we went to the Spice Bazaar, where we Finnished (jajaja). Bought some Love Tea and Turkish coffee. Far less crazy than the Grand Bazaar, with better smells. I bought a 5 lira headscarf. When I was trying it on, the guy was like, “Where are you from?” I told him Finland. He said, “You look American.” I said, “I have family in America. I go there many times.” After that we went back to the Turkish Delight store, to stock up on family gifts. (Don’t worry, ‘rents. I figured you wouldn’t like it anyway so I got you something better than what I know you would refer to as “weird jelly stuff from Turkey”).

We went back to the Birbs (as we lovingly called it all week) and packed whilst watching South Park again. I’ve never seen South Park before this trip, mostly because, as a Coloradan, I don’t really appreciate the stereotyping of our fair state as such. But it was one of the few things we could follow on the Turkish telly, so we watched it every night.

Wednesday morning we got up, checked out (which basically consisted of handing our keys to the guy at the desk and waving goodbye) and dragged Kebab through the back alleys of Sultanahment to the Tramvay (Tokyo packed, of course). We then dragged him, bouncing and flouncing, to the Funicular (two-stop subway, basically goes up a hill) and then to the bus, which took us back to the Asian Wilderness, and our airport.

"Oh, snap!"

Next stop was Dublin. More stories to follow.