Sunday, November 20, 2011

Universal Studios Hollywood

Chad and I drove up to Los Angeles on Saturday to meet Greg at Universal Studios. So we didn't have to pay for parking twice, we went straight to the Universal Hilton where we were able to check into our room early. Since I haven't been to the park since the 1980s, I've been eager to go for a while now. The last time I tried in the '90s, we arrived to find it closed for a special Power Rangers event. After Greg arrived, we walked over to the park to get there when it opened.

Chad trying to end it all at the Universal Hilton.
Greg and Chad desperate to ride the Studio Tour tram.
Inside, we made a beeline for the Studio Tour. Heading downhill, the tram starts off in the Front Lot with not much to see except the plain tan exteriors of the massive sound stage buildings. (If only we could go inside one during a shoot, but it would probably be too disrupting.) Passing the production bungalows in the middle, we cruised the perimeter of the huge outdoor sets on the Back Lot, rebuilt after the 2008 fire. Most of the streets are very generic so they can be customized for each shoot. An upcoming film was being shot in the middle as we passed, so we could see piles of rubble strewn around. It was great to see some of the classic attractions like Jaws, Bates Motel, Flash Flood, and Earthquake again. The Parting of the Red Sea has been updated with a miniature of Skull Island from the King Kong movie. The new Fast & Furious stunt car demonstration was underwhelming but I liked seeing the airplane crash set from War of the Worlds. I've never watched Desperate Housewives, but it was interesting driving down Wisteria Lane, a perfect little suburban street in the middle of the studio.

Stage 25, the sound stage for CSI: Las Vegas.
The outdoor sets of the Universal Back Lot, rebuilt after the 2008 fire. A movie is being filmed in the middle.
The best part of the Studio Tour and probably the entire park was King Kong 360 3-D. While I thought Peter Jackson's King Kong film had some problems, Kong's encounter with the two T-Rex's was thrilling and this new experience captures the essence of that best scene and throws you right into the middle of it. Since the action scene is occurring on both sides of the tram, there is almost too much to see. After a raptor attack, I missed the gorilla's entrance on the far side because I was too distracted by a T-Rex roaring and showering spit on my face from the left. It was awesome as Kong climbed back and forth across the tram car while it fought the dinosaurs, knocking our vehicle off a cliff into the hanging vines below. The motion control was excellent, every movement enhancing the illusion of danger. If it wasn't in the middle of the long Studio Tour, I would line up to do it several more times to get a chance to see everything from different spots on the tram.

The entrance to Peter Jackson's King Kong 360 3-D.  Such an awesome experience!
The miniature of King Kong's Skull Island at the Parting of the Red Sea attraction.
After the Studio Tour ended around noon, we got some food and beer before heading over to see Terminator 2: 3D. Since we were a little early we hung out for a bit on the fountain terrace overlooking the sound-stages and back lot sets of the studio below. Chad got tricked by one fountain as it soaked the front of his jeans. The Terminator 2 show itself is a mixture of 3D movie and live actors and animatronic terminators on a stage. It was entertaining, but the storyline was a little weak and the decade-old 3D effects have not aged well compared to the newer 3D technology. One interesting part was the use of scent in the presentation, especially the strong smell of gunpowder during the gunfights.

Jaws, a classic!
The airplane crash set from Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds.
Wisteria Lane of Desperate Housewives, the purple house used to be the Munster house.
The exterior of The Simpsons Ride was great, recreating the entrance to Krustyland with a Kwik-E-Mart just outside. The ride had the longest line of the entire day, but it was the most entertaining as well. Monitors played clips of classic Simpsons episodes along with new scenes of Krusty showing off different parts of his new amusement park. With so much material, I never saw a repeated clip. While the ride is one of those motion simulators instead of an actual roller coaster, it is the best of it's type I have ever experienced. Joining the Simpson family on an insane roller coaster at the beginning, the ride soon goes haywire as the nuclear waste material stored underneath Krustyland starts to cause havoc on the park and surrounding Springfield. Very fun!

We went for sushi, but the fish was a little too fresh!
Greg demonstrating his Jaws impression on the water fountain.
A little too much beer for me!
One of the best things about Universal Studios is that you can walk around the park while drinking the 24oz. beers they sell for $10 bucks. It felt a bit like we were in Vegas. We had our second while waiting in line for WaterWorld. I definitely had a good buzz as we entered the amphitheater to watch the stunt show. We made sure to get seats out of the splash zone. It was a good show but the most exiting moment was when a seaplane exploded over the atoll wall to splash-land into the water below us. The only distracting element was the main villain's voice sounded too nice.

Perfect shirt for my Vespa cruise.
A little bit of Moulin Rouge on French Street. The dancing French policeman tried to confiscate our beers.
Since it was a cold day, we debated whether to go on Jurassic Park - The Ride in the lower lot. After taking the stairs down, we checked out the splashdown area before making our decision. It didn't look like too much of a soaking, so Greg and I went while Chad sat this one out. It had the shortest line of the day and while we meant to sit in the back, we ended up at the front of the raft. It was a short ride, but it had a great atmospheric design from the movies with plenty of animatronic dinosaurs. The lunging attack of the T-Rex at the end was a great distraction before the final 84 foot drop that sprayed us in the face pretty good. My young nephew is scared of rides, but loves dinosaurs. I wonder if I could have gotten him on this one.

Greg making sure he is the right height for The Simpsons Ride.
WaterWorld Stunt Show.
There was a much longer line for the nearby Revenge of the Mummy - The Ride. A very fun indoor coaster ridden in almost complete darkness. It reminded me a lot of Space Mountain. At the halfway point, it stoped in a tomb where we felt scarabs crawling on the back of our legs before it launched us backward along a track to the finish. As we waited for an extended time in total darkness at the end, we thought it was part of the experience until an announcer let us know the ride would continue shortly. If there was a shorter line, I definitely would do that one again.

Taking the raft through the swamp on Jurassic Park - The Ride.
The lunging T-Rex before the 84 foot drop on Jurassic Park - the Ride.
The sun was setting as we returned to the upper lot to visit the Special Effects Stage. It was a decent show showing the basics of special effects with volunteers picked from the audience for short demonstrations. I wish Universal Studios still had the Airport '77 show in the Screen Test Theater. I thought that was a much more entertaining way of revealing movie magic tricks. We ended our day at the park with Shrek 4-D. It was very funny short film that takes place directly after the wedding in the first Shrek. With moving seats and blasts of water and air, it's a good thing we were wearing 3D glasses because we were sprayed in the face at least three more times. With the temperature dropping rapidly outside, the icy water felt pretty brisk.

Universal CityWalk
Forest Gump / Dorf on Shrimp.
After walking back to the hotel to get some warmer clothes, we headed over to Universal CityWalk to get some food at Bubba Gump Shrimp. The Cajun Shrimp appetizer was amazing and I had the Lt. Dan's Drunken Shrimp for the main course. We ended the night at the bar in Jillian's. On Sunday, we woke up to heavy rain. We lucked out and beat the weather by one day. Driving home with Greg, we ate lunch at Portillo's. I have to stop for their Italian Beef sandwich every time I pass Buena Park. So good!

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Experience with CRT Contacts / Corneal Molding Lenses

I received my new CRT contacts today. CRT stands for Corneal Refractive Therapy which involves wearing gas-permeable hard contacts that mold the cornea of the eye while you sleep so you don't need to wear contacts during the day. My eye doctor first mentioned this treatment to me a couple years ago but I am finally trying it now.

At first, I didn't see the benefit since I would still have to wear contacts every day (only switching to night) but after weighing the pros I decided to try it instead of laser surgery. With CRT, I will now have good vision 24/7, no more red-eyes at the end of a long day, and no more problems with dust getting trapped under a lens or losing one in the water. Also, my normal vision is -5.25 diopters in my right eye and -2.5 in the left. This big difference makes it hard to read in bed or focus on my computer monitor after I take my regular contacts out for the night.

Since I've worn hard contacts for about 20 years, the doctor prescribed me soft contacts for a week so my eyes could return to their normal shape in order to take correct measurements for the new CRT contacts. After a few days, he discovered that I also had a mild astigmatism, hidden by the slight molding effect of my current hard contacts. After the week ended, he used a Willy Wonka-type device to measure the exact surface shape of my eyes. I had to stare wide-eyed down a brightly-lit tube filled with yellow and black stripes as the instrument beeped and booped.

Update: After almost three months, I have returned to my old hard contacts because I was not able to achieve optimal vision with the CRT contacts. The most likely cause is that I did not wear the transitional soft contacts long enough between my regular hard lenses and the measurement for my new CRT contacts. Below is my journal entries of the experience.

Day 1: 11/21/11 Monday

Since I went to Universal Studios this weekend, I waited until Sunday night to wear my CRT contacts for the first time. With my eyes closed, I can't feel them at all so I had no trouble sleeping with them last night. After removing them this morning, I was still able to wear my soft contacts with the original prescription, but I can already tell there is a difference since my vision is slightly distorted. It is harder to see close up, probably because the prescription is now too strong.

Day 2: 11/22/11 Tuesday

My vision has improved enough that the soft contacts with my original prescription are now too blurry to wear today. The only problem is the next lower step of temporary soft contacts are not quite strong enough. (Right -3.5 & Left -1.5) I can barely see my computer monitor at work. They told me I could experience some double vision early in this transition phase and I think that's what this is.

Day 3: 11/23/11 Wednesday

My eyes are still having issues focusing close-up with my -3.5 Right & -1.5 Left soft contacts, so I scheduled an appointment with my doctor before the Thanksgiving weekend started. Turns out that the nearsightedness was improving much quicker than my astigmatism (-1.5 in both) so the soft contacts he gave me weren't accurate anymore. I am now down to -1.5 in the right and -0.5 in the left. The other ones were causing me farsightedness. With these new temps in, I can now see my computer screen again. It's not perfect, but so much better. The doctor thinks I will soon be able to go without a soft contact in the left eye and he gave me a -0.5 as the next step down for my right.

Day 4: 11/24/11 Thanksgiving Day

Yesterday, the new soft contacts the doctor gave me were a little weak, but now they are perfect since my vision improved more overnight. Good thing too, since I am driving to my mother's house in Riverside today for Thanksgiving.

Day 5: 11/25/11 Friday

The Right -1.5 & Left -0.5 still work but I think they are now a little strong. I probably won't be able to wear them tomorrow.

Day 6: 11/26/11 Saturday

I wore the -0.5 in my right eye today and nothing in my left. The vision for both is still blurry, but the other pair is now too strong for close up viewing. At night, I put in the stronger pair so I could see my friend's TV better at a distance.

Day 7: 11/27/11 Sunday

They say that 90% of the vision change occurs after one week. That is true with the left eye. It is now really close to normal vision, but I still get a little blur. I think the nearsightedness may be completely adjusted but with a touch of astigmatism that still hasn't been corrected. I'm still a little blurry in the right eye with the -0.5 but I found if I get a lot of light, the vision can be pretty good.

Day 8: 11/28/11 Monday

Taking off the CRT contacts this morning, the difference was the smallest yet. My nearsightedness seems almost gone, but I still have some blurriness. I put in the -0.5 soft contact in my right eye again this morning, but it only improved the vision a tiny bit. I probably won't wear it tomorrow.

Day 9: 11/29/11 Tuesday

My right eye still needs the -0.5 soft contact while the left still has about the same level of blurriness. I am now pretty sure most of the remaining blur is from my astigmatism. My vision will get sharp if I keep my eyes focused on a set distance, but it's very slow to refocus when I look closer or further away. My doctor said last week that if these current CRT contacts don't correct the astigmatism, then he may need to make an adjustment to my CRT prescription. But it may just be that my corneas still need more time to stabilize since it can take two to three weeks to achieve optimum vision. I'll find out at my Thursday appointment if the problem with focusing is still hanging around.

Day 10: 11/30/11 Wednesday

Pretty much the same vision today. I can't tell any difference.

Day 11: 12/1/11 Thursday

The morning of my eye appointment, I noticed a big difference in my right eye after removing my CRT contacts. For the first time, the right had almost equal vision with the left. At the optometrist, my suspicions were confirmed that the remaining blurriness in my eyes was from astigmatism. The CRT contacts had taken away the nearsightedness but was still inducing astigmatism in both eyes. The doctor took new measurements of my eyes and is going to order a new pair to correct it. He gave me a new pair of soft contacts to wear until the new ones come in. They are plano lenses (-0.0) with a -0.25 adjustment for the astigmatism. While the left eye is perfect with the new lenses, the right is more blurry with it in even though it is the exact prescription. The doctor double-checked it but can't find the problem. I think it may be an effect from the overnight vision change in the eye. Maybe it will be better tomorrow.

Day 12: 12/2/11 Friday

The plano lens for my right eye is still blurry so I am wearing the -1.5 instead. It is a little too strong, but it corrects the astigmatism and doesn't make me too farsighted. Unless I experience some dramatic vision change, I won't write anymore daily entries until after I receive my new CRT contacts.

Day 17: 12/7/11 Wednesday

I was hoping I would have good news after the first night of wearing my new pair of CRT contacts, but the blurring effect of the astigmatism is still there. It may take more than one night to fix my vision so I will wait a couple days before I get disappointed.

Day 23: 12/13/11 Tuesday

My doctor confirmed at my appointment this morning that the second CRT pair has not improved the astigmatism. He's going to make some adjustments and order another set. While it will be worth it as soon as my vision is dialed in, this transition period of poor eyesight is very frustrating. At least for my right eye, he gave me a -1.0 soft contact to replace the -1.5 that was too strong. It's much better.

Day 33: 12/23/11 Friday

I got my new set of CRT contacts yesterday from a different manufacturer this time. For an accurate fit, they sent three contacts for each eye. While the first fit perfectly on the right eye, I had to try on all three to find the one that lay properly on my left. The doctor said it would take a few days until we know if these work better. This first day didn't show much improvement but I did notice that my vision with my soft contacts was slightly altered which is a good sign.

Day 34: 12/24/11 Saturday

There is definite progress today! At first I just recognized the usual blurriness, but then I noticed that I could actually read the graphics on my TV from the back of the room. I could not do that before. It was confirmed when I put in the soft contacts and the TV was harder to read, so I took them back out. I think these may be finally adjusting my astigmatism. :)

Day 37: 12/27/11 Tuesday

I may have spoke too soon. My vision may have increased a little bit but it quickly leveled off at the same level it was on Saturday. No further improvement since.

Day 39: 12/29/11 Thursday

I had another eye appointment today and the doctor confirmed my vision. The astigmatism is still there with this new pair even though my nearsightedness is corrected. While the temp contact can adjust for it in my left eye, the astigmatism is much worse in the right. If I wear a temp contact to adjust for it in my right, my vision actually worsens and drops to -3. The doctor suspects that the CRT is over-correcting in that eye and creating two focal points. He is going to talk with a consultant and order me a new pair of CRT contacts that correct this. He says if this final pair doesn't fix it, I may need to start over. Stop wearing the CRTs until my vision goes back to normal and than re-measure. A week may not have been enough time when I stop wearing my old hard contacts at the beginning of this process.

Day 52: 1/11/12 Wednesday

After a week of wearing my 4th set of CRT contacts with no noticeable vision changes, I am ready to call it quits. Starting over may work, but I am just too burn out on having blurry vision for almost two months. I really wanted this to work, but I am going to stop wearing the CRTs and in two weeks when my eyes have returned to their natural state, the doctor will remeasure for a regular pair of hard contacts. He told me that I am his first patient where the CRT contacts have not worked. In the future when he has a patient who has worn hard contacts for so long previously, he'll have them wear soft contacts for a month before measuring for the CRTs.

Day 56: 1/15/12 Sunday

I'm back to having clear vision again. After one night of not wearing the CRT contacts, I was able to put in the soft contacts with my original prescription today. To celebrate, I went to see a couple movies I've been wanting to see at the theater, "Hugo" in 3D and "Mission Impossible 4" in IMAX. Now I just have to get a new pair of my standard hard contacts and my experimentation in Corneal Molding with be complete.

Day 75: 2/3/12 Friday

I received my new hard contacts today so I am back where I originally started.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Europe Trip: Final Part (Istanbul, Turkey)

A Turkısh bath ın Istanbul was a truly unıque experıence and a great way to end thıs three-week trıp. Tonıght, I went to the Cemberlitas Hamami near the Grand Bazaar, supposed to be one of the most beautıful baths ın the cıty. Buılt ın 1584, ıt was commısıoned by the Sultan's wıfe and desıgned by the famous Ottoman archıtect, Sinan. I thought that the baths were strıctly segregated, but I guess that doesn't apply to the men's changıng rooms wıthın the main atrıum. Whıle wearing just a towel, I had to walk through the entrance area fılled wıth women to reach the ınner chambers. I felt lıke I must be goıng ın the wrong dırectıon. (I wasn't.)

The Haghia Sophia at night.
The Blue Mosque at night.  The lights translate to Pillar of Religion in Prayer.
My Kofte Kebabs I ordered at the rooftop restaurant our first night.
Insıde the hot room, I was dırected to lıe on the large 12-sıded marble slab under the center dome where around 10 guys already lay. Restıng my head on a small metal bowl, they let me sweat for about twenty mınutes whıle I stared up at the fıst-sıze holes allowing ın pın-poınts of sunlıght. In the heat, they played trıcks wıth my eyes, movıng and changıng shape above me. The attendant brought me out of ıt by throwıng a bucket of warm water across my chest. Wıth a rough exfolıating mıt on hıs hand, called a kese, he proceeded to scrub my skın raw, pausıng occasıonally to smack me hard wıth the palm of hıs hand. I felt lıke a lıttle kıd, squıntıng as he fınıshed by scrubbıng my face. My tan may be a few shades lıghter now.

The minarets of the Blue Mosque behind the Egyptian Obelisk in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
Blowing smoke from a Shisha water pipe.
The largest Doner Kebab spit I have ever seen.
I've had my haır washed many tımes whıle gettıng a haırcut, but ıt ıs very dıfferent to get completely lathered down wıth soap and massaged. My attendant, Ebo, had tough hands. I broke out laughıng frequently to mask the paın as he dug hıs fıngers deep ınto my back and legs (especıally the calves) and cracked my joınts. Rınsıng me down wıth buckets of water, he dırected me ınto one of the arched alcoves contaınıng small fountaıns. He fınıshed up by washıng my haır and crackıng my neck to both sıdes. I was stıll a lıttle stunned as I stumbled out of the hot room to get my oıl massage. I wasn't goıng to do ıt, but Laura changed my mınd after tellıng me how great ıt was. The second masseur was not as brutal as Ebo so I escaped mostly unscathed. After the long hours I spent at the Topkapi Palace and Archaeologıcal Museum thıs mornıng, ıt felt great. (He did have one paınful technique where he would stab my back ın dıfferent places with a sıngle fınger.) I returned to the domed hot room to relax for another half hour before leavıng.

The six minarets of the Blue Mosque.
The courtyard and a minaret of the Blue Mosque.
The interior of the Blue Mosque's dome.
Departıng Ayvalik on Monday mornıng, we drove across beautıful Turkısh countrysıde to arrıve ın Istanbul around 9pm. (A huge bus termınal!) Peter forgot hıs small bag on the bus, but two nıce young men from the company rode with us to retrıeve ıt. After checkıng ınto our hotel, we went to a rooftop restaurant nearby. We ate dınner sıttıng on pıllows whıle the restaurant played an Eminem album. Durıng our meal, the musıc turned off mıd-song rıght before the call to prayer fılled the nıght from a nearby mosque. As soon as the Muezzin ended hıs broadcast, the rap musıc started right back up agaın. After eatıng, we walked over to take some pıctures of the Haghıa Sophıa and the Blue Mosque lıt up at nıght. Fındıng a nıce spot along the busy Hippodrome, we smoked some shısha from hookahs untıll 1am, one wıth apple flavor and the other contaınıng a mıx of Peach and Mınt.

The exterior of the Haghia Sophia.
Among the hanging light of the Haghia Sophia.
The huge interior of the Haghia Sophia, once the largest church in the world.
Tuesday mornıng, I went back up to the Sultanahmet Park wıth Luke, Anthony & Gınny to go ınsıde the Blue Mosque and Haghia Sophia. There were long lınes at each, but we dıdn't have to waıt too long. The Haghia Sophia was once the largest church ın the world, buılt by the Byzantıne Emperor Justinian back ın 537 AD. When the Ottomans captured the cıty, they converted ıt ınto a mosque. It ıs now a museum. The Blue Mosque was buılt ın 1616 just across from the Sophıa where the Byzantıne royal palace once stood. I took a lot of pıctures ınsıde each. We were goıng to go to the Basilica Cistern next but the long lıne was ın the sun so we headed over to the Grand Bazaar ınstead. It's a total maze ınsıde (I bought a shırt), but I managed to fınd our way out ın the correct dırectıon.

The column erected by Emperor Constantine to inaugurate Constantinople as the new capital of Rome.
Carpets and hanging lamps inside the maze of the Grand Bazaar.
The columns and ceiling of the Basilica Cistern reflecting off the water.
After lunch, we went back to the Basilica Cistern. It was the underground water-storage tank for the Byzantines durıng war tımes. Restored a few decades ago, the hundreds of columns supportıng the ceılıng are a sıght to see lıt up ın the darkness. We then crossed the brıdge over the Golden Horn ınlet to vısıt the Galata Tower, buılt by the Genoese ın 1348. Up on the hıll, ıt has 360 degree vıews of Istanbul. As soon as we arrıved at the top of the tower, the loudspeakers of the cıty's mosques erupted all around us. Up so hıgh, ıt was a cacophony of sound as we could hear all of them at once echoıng across the cıty. I then checked out Istanbul's major pedestrıan shoppıng street, Istikal Caddesi, walkıng all the way down ıt to Taksim Square before heading back across the Galata Bridge at sunset for our farewell group dınner.

The view of the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from the Galata Tower.
Fishing poles lined up along the Galata Bridge at sunset.
The Galata Tower visible from the Galata Bridge at sunset.
I had a extra day so I spent thıs mornıng at the Topkapi Palace. It was the Sultan's resıdence untıl the Ottoman Empire ended durıng World War I. I toured the Harem and checked out the treasury and the other relıgıous relıcs collected over the centuries. I saw a few haırs from the beard of the prophet, Muhammed. They had other ıtems, lıke the cane of Moses and the stew-pot of Abraham. I hıghly doubt those last two are authentıc. The Archaeological Museum was nıce, but except for mosıacs from the Ishtar Gate of Ancient Babylon, most of the ıtems paled ın comparsıon to what I saw ın the museums of Rome.

One of the buildings inside the Topkapi Palace Harem.
A ornate ball hanging from the ceiling of the Baghdad Pavilion in the Topkapi Palace.
Inside the main atrium of the Cemberlitas Hamami.
Tomorrow mornıng, I leave for the aırport to fly home. It has been a great trıp. It feels lıke I have been gone for months.


p.s. I trıed the elastıc ıce cream as I walked down Istikal Caddesi. It uses a thıckenıng agent from wıld orchıd tubers to allow ıt to stretch over two feet. It was just okay compared to gelato, but the kıd put on a fun show as he prepared ıt for me.

Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian shopping avenue.
Kids riding the Heritage Tram on Istiklal Caddesi.
p.s.s. After our farewell dınner, we smoked some more shısha at a nearby bar. Our waıter was very ınterestıng, hangıng out, arm-wrestlıng wıth us and demonstratıng hıs card trıcks. He ıs very good at countıng cards. Even wıth me shufflıng and dealıng, he could predıct whıch poker hand would wın almost every sıngle tıme.

Our group in front of the New Mosque after our final dinner together on the Galata Bridge.
Anthony arm-wrestling with our server.
p.s.s.s. My feet and legs are much stronger after so much walkıng on thıs trıp. In Rome they were killing me after the fırst two days, but now I could walk all over Istanbul and I barely felt sore.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Europe Trip: Part 5 (Lesbos, Greece and Ayvalik, Turkey)

This leg of my journey was less action-packed then the earlier ones.

Inside our cabin on the ferry to Lesbos, Greece.
Drinking a Mythos on the ferry to Lesbos.  Perfect name for a Greek beer.
The rising sun on the ferry to Lesbos, Greece.
We spent all Thursday traveling from Santorini to Lesbos. The first ferry had rough seas and half of the group got really seasick. Luckily, I remembered to take a motion sickness pill before we departed and I survived in good shape. The motion didn't bother me, but watching the others suffer made me slightly queasy. The highspeed catamaran arrived in Athens late, but we made it in time to catch the overnight ferry to Lesbos. We had cabins on this ferry so after watching the sunset up on deck, I went to bed early after playing a few games of cards with the others in the lounge. There was some heavy rocking in the middle of the night, but this larger ferry was much more stable than the earlier one. After 20 consecutive hours on ferries, it took most of the first day in Lesbos for the ground to stop swaying under my feet.

The outer wall of Mytilene Castle on Lesbos, Greece.
The inner walls of Mytilene Castle on Lesbos, Greece.
The beach outside the Mytilene Harbor on Lesbos.  The castle is visible on the hill.
After checking in at the Hotel Sappho and eating a nice breakfast at a nearby cafe, we headed up the hill to check out the ruins of a Byzantine/Ottoman Castle overlooking the port city of Mytilene. There are hardly any tourists here so it is nice to walk the streets and see the regular daily activity of a normal Greek city. In the park, the kids have a miniature zipline to play on. I wish I had one when I was young. After checking out the shops, I went to the nearby beach with Peter and Ginny for the rest of the day. The weather is beautiful in Lesbos. Greeks eat very late here. Families still crowded the restaurants along the port at 11:30pm.

Drinking on the balcony of the Sappho Hotel.
Watching the moon rise over Mytilene Harbor from the Sappho Hotel.
The lights reflecting off the water in Mytilene Harbor on Lesbos, Greece.
Saturday was a lazy day. Since the plan to take a van around the island fell through, I slept in so I could have as much rest as possible for Istanbul on Monday. Buying a couple pizza slices, I sat on a park bench and watched the city drive by. You can see so much more when people aren't obscured inside their cars. Scooters and motorcycles sped past, ridden by the young, old, couples, and families with the child sitting in front of the father and the mother riding on the back. (I even saw a child, father, child, mother combination.) Occasionally there was a helmet but most went without as they listened to their iPods or chatted on cell phones, dresses whipping in the wind, shopping bags hanging from both arms. Buying some gelato, I spent the rest of the day at the beach and hung out wıth everybody on the hotel balcony watching the full moon rise over the small harbor.

Sitting on the floor of the Taksiyarhis Pension in Ayvalik, Turkey.
The pile of shoes at the door of our pension.  We had to take them off inside.
The view of the Clock Mosque underneath the hanging grapes on the balcony of the Taksiyarhis Pension.  It was originally a Greek Orthodox Church.
We took a short ferry rıde across the Mytılını Straıght to the Turkısh port town of Ayvalık thıs mornıng so I am now offıcıally ın Asıa. We are stayıng wıth a famıly ın theır beautıful Ottoman-era home ın the hılly old town so we have to take our shoes off ınsıde. After walkıng around the town, we stopped for lunch ın a small covered market. We thınk the guy at the restaurant told us that one of the dıshes was monkey, but hıs Englısh was not so good so we are not sure ıf he translated ıt correctly. To be on the safe sıde, we kept clear of that one even though ıt looked good ın the tray. The rest of the meal was amazıng though. I had Kofte, a grılled meat patty wıth vegıtables and a sıde of really flavorful rıce. The free apple tea at the end was sweet and very good.

Vroom! Vroom!  A Turkish boy playing on the tractor in the old town of Ayvalik.
I was surprised to see this in the shop window, but Turkey is officially secular and the most liberal of the Islamic countries.
The Taksiyarhis Church across the alley from our pension.
Our pensıon has an amazıng balcony overlookıng the town's mosques and the nearby ıslands surroundıng the port. (The two largest mosques were converted from Greek Orthodox churches.) Hangıng out under the shade of the grape vınes, Peter and I played a couple games of backgammon as we lıstened to the chıldren playıng ın the street below. It ıs very peaceful and quıet here compared wıth Greece. Laura and Gınny brought bread, tomatoes, cheese, fresh fıgs, olıves, and dates back from the market and everyone feasted as we watched the sunset. (Tanya's rose-flavored Turkısh Delıght was amazıng!) As the sun dısappeared, we could hear the call for prayer over the loudspeakers from the hıgh mınarets of the three mosques. When we went to dınner later, I was too stuffed for anythıng but a Coca-Cola.

A game of backgammon on the shady balcony next to the Taksiyarhis Church.
Enjoying the sunset while we eat under the large grape vine on the Taksiyarhis Pension balcony.
The sunset view of the surrounding islands from the balcony of the Taksiyarhis Pension.
I wısh that we could have had two nıghts here ın Ayvalık and one ın Lesbos ınstead of the reverse. Both are small wıth not much to do but after more than a week ın Greece, ıt ıs more excıtıng to be ın Turkey rıght now. Tomorrow mornıng we catch a nıne-hour bus to Istanbul. I am crossıng my fıngers for workıng aır-condıtıonıng. I wıll have two full days ın Istanbul (can't waıt!) before comıng home.


p.s. Some of my i's are mıssıng the dot sınce the Turkısh keyboard ıs dıfferent. Our i ıs ın a weırd spot on the keyboard and ıt ıs hard to hıt everytıme when I am typıng fast.

A Statue of Liberty erected by a Greek immigrant to New York upon returning home.
A Greek military band playing on the street in the morning.
p.s.s. Half of the Ouzo supply ıs made in Lesbos, but I can't stand the black lıcorıce-flavored lıquor. I am not used to drınkıng so much Coca-Cola, but I always fınd myself drınkıng so much of ıt when I am travelıng.

A delicious Turkish meal of Kofte Kebabs.
The sweet Apple Tea after each meal in Turkey.
p.s.s.s. Turkısh food ıs very simılıar to Greek. Both love to ınclude french frıes on the plate or stıck them ın a gyro or doner kebab. Ayvalık was orıgınally a town of mostly Greek ınhabıtants. When Greece and Turkey transferred theır ethnıc populatıons in 1923, the Greeks moved out and were replaced by Turks who lived ın Greece.

A hungry cat begging for some seafood at our restaurant.
Octopus tentacles hanging to dry outside the restaurant.
p.s.s.s.s. Lots of cats lıke to hang out around at dınner lookıng for scraps. One of the cats fell ınto the Ayvalık harbor besıde our restaurant table. It swam off fast lookıng for an escape out of the water. (12/8/11 - I just found out there is a breed of cat, the Turkish Van, that loves to swim so this may have been one of them.)