Notes from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Nobuko is in Israel at the moment and has this to share with her readers.

Israel was cool. Perhaps because I have friends here, and can see the local way of living in what appears to be a mysterious country. I stayed with Tamar, a women I had met in Thailand 11 years ago and I’m usually good at keeping in touch.

I took a side trip to Jerusalem. I think I have been on the road a bit too long, because I did not feel any excitement when I reached the city. It’s Jerusalem! Yet my reaction was “Ah… Rajasthan was much more stunning architecturally, Cairo retained its authenticity and decadence of a crumbling down ancient city”. See the lack of appreciation? It was super annoying to have many shop keepers yelling out to me “Ni-hao, China?”. The interactions never passed beyond BS sales. It just made me miss and cherish my experience in Cairo. I am sure others would enjoy visiting Jerusalem for a religious/spiritual purpose and in appreciation for its biblical history.

Jerusalem, outside of its walled-in old part, is very modern with well a connected system of buses and light rail. Malls, boutiques, restaurants, cafes and fast food shops fill the somewhat European looking streets. Being there had a déjà vu effect on me that I thought I was back in the U.S. The only reminder that I was indeed in Jerusalem was orthodox Jews walking around with winter suits and fur hats in 36 degree temperature…But wait, I see this in New York as well!

Back in Tel Aviv, I spent time resting the day and hanging out at night. Tamar invited her friends and we went out almost every night. I got to reunite with another Israeli whom I had met in Brazil in 2009. And he brought his friends, so I met even more Israelis. At one point, things take on a snowball effect. The number of people you meet keep multiplying by minutes. Luckily I was in a good state of mind and good physical health to enjoy such spontaneous situations, especially over beer and food munchies!!

Before coming to Israel, I was also in Aqaba, Jordan, by the red sea. The beach was beautiful, but local men were always approaching me since I’m alone. And since they are cowards and never have the nerve to do the same alone, they come in a pack, like dogs.  To avoid this, I found a woman sitting alone and went to talk to her. Turned out that she is an Argentinean from Buenos Aires – don’t know if I had mentioned it before – but I have second cousins there from my mother’s side, and I was there to meet them in 2010. So we hit it off. She is my mother’s age, but looks much younger. Her husband is also Argentinean and Jewish. They live near Tel Aviv. After spending a nice afternoon talking and her watching my bag, while I went snorkelling, we decided to meet once more in Tel Aviv.

So, she and her cynical but funny husband took me out today (my last day) to a very nice Italian restaurant by the beach. We shared a leisurely late lunch over white wine and talked, talked, and talked some more. They are the sophisticated kind of people who do not take themselves seriously, and have a great sense of humor. It makes me feel so good to connect with such people because it’s great fun, stimulating, and a big ego booster.

I feel a bit guilty that I didn’t enjoy being with Tamar as much as I expected. This is because I dropped in on her while she is unhappy with her life. The atmosphere was filled with tension (with her husband), her frustration that she lost her self in child rearing, so on and so on. She understandably prefers to hang out with male friends (it makes her feel attractive). One of them was a gentleman who paid for my beers when we went out a few times. But the tension followed because it was apparent to me that Tamar did not like his girlfriend. After the nights ended, each time she complained to me about the girlfriend. I didn’t like this since I saw it as waste of time to bash someone. in comparison, I had great time with Argentinean because they exude contentment, poise and sense of mature detachment.


One of the most amazing, yet challenging things during traveling is – meeting and dealing with people. Each one has his/her own preoccupation, issues, idiosyncrasies, and temperament. Many times I found myself in situations where I  and others had to endure each others’ company for reasons that were out of our control. And I think tolerance is the key to open the first door. If this works, then we have time to feel out the chemistry, then we decide how to behave toward each other. There have been more wonders than regrets, thus reinforcing my willingness to take chances – of course, except for obviously hopelessly stupid men.

Notes From Malaysia and India

Nobuko, world traveller and occasional guest-blogger, is reporting from Malaysia and India (February 2013).

The second leg of my year-long trip began in Japan. I had some rare reunions which were fun! And I got to meet my 6-month old nephew, a new addition to the family. I got to eat raw and grilled oysters and noodles like there is no tomorrow.

I had my fare share of sake and shochu as I had nighty-night drinks at the end of the day… So, no wonder the time in Japan and the preceding month in the U.S.A. put back all the weight I had lost (8 pounds), and hence my mother’s comment “You said you lost weight, but it does not look like it”.

From Fukuoka, I flew with China Eastern via Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur (KL). I do not recommend China Eastern to anyone. The layover in Shanghai was supposed to be only 3 hours, but it became a horrible 8-hour wait without any announcement of a clear explanation. And they changed departure gate three times, again without a clear announcement.

Anyway, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 5 a.m. I wanted to go to Pulau Pnagkor, but the first bus from the KL airport did not leave until 9:30am. I killed time by taking advantage of using its free wi-fi.

The bus was served by Star Shuttle, with very comfortable seats and a blasting AC. The trip was supposed to take 5-6 hours, but we made it to Sitiwan in 4.5 hours. From Sitiwan, there are buses to Lumit 10 km away which has a ferry dock to Pulau Pangkor. The ferry ride was 40 minutes and the round trip ticket was 10 MR.

Pulau Pangkor does not have buses, so I had to get a taxi which was 15 MR – very expensive considering a mere 4 km journey to Nipha Bay, on the west side of the island. There are tons of guest houses there, but cheap ones are not in abundance. I settled in a Nipha camp dorm for 20 MR.

I like beach towns. I like reading while lying in a hammock. Basically, I don’t do too much of anything. But this time, I met a mother-daughter team from Japan. The mom wanted to go on a scooter ride, but both herself and her daughter were scared of driving it. Hence I came into the picture as a driver. It had been well over 10 years since I drove a scooter (in Thailand), so I was a bit scared myself – especially when I saw that the vehicle they gave us was not a scooter, but a small motorcycle (1000 cc).

I practiced for 30 minutes going up and down the same street. Then I got the mom on the back and made a circle around the island. After about 30 minutes, I got the hang of it and I was able to enjoy the ride and the view.

Just as Chinese New Year rolled in, I went back to KL. KL is a wonderful city! Bukit Bingtan’s Alor street has loads of eateries and come alive after dusk with neon signs and crowds of people. I met a friend of my friend there and we had dinner. I really wish that I had given more time to Malaysia instead of only just one week. The locals are friendly, food is great, and the infrastructure is good.

From KL I flew Air Asia to Chennai, India. I had no particular reason to go to Chennai, but I wanted to see a sea side city in South India. I took the  train from outside the airport to the Egmore area (17 Rupees). The train was crowded, but having been baptized in Mumbai previously (which was far more crowded and cut-throat to get on or off), it was an easy ride.

I settled in the Triplicane neighborhood and shared a 450 Rupee room with a young Japanese boy I had met on the plane. The couchsurfing group in Chennai is very active, so some of them came out to hang out a few times.

One member invited me to his wedding although we had never met in person. I went to the temple on the wedding day, but there were well over 50 weddings happening at the same time! So I could not find his party. But I was adopted by another party who had nothing to do with me, and I observed the wedding and even ate lunch with them. This is Indian hospitality, everyone.

Wedding in India

After Chennai, I took a night train (12 hrs) to Guntakal. From there, I took three buses which took another 5-6 hours, and finally reached Hampi. It is one of the largest open air museums, with ruins everywhere and most of them free to enter. I took a bike tour for 350 Rupees. It was good, but having been to Cappadocia in Turkey, it is pretty hard to feel the same magnitude of excitement.

Hampi, India

Sure, Hampi is Hampi, Cappadocia is Cappadocia, but… Hampi has a big pot scene with many tourists who look like hippies, but mostly the young crowd. The highlight of Hampi for me was meeting (and touching) the temple elephant, Lakshmi!!  If you give a 10 Rupee note, she gently takes it with her trunk and blesses you by touching your head with her trunk!!

She is massive, but makes no sound when she walks. And the way she walked had a funny swing to it, she was just so cute!

Blessing from Laskhmi, the elephant

From Hampi (well, really from the town of Hospet), I took another night train to Hyderabad, again a 12-hour ride. After reaching the train station at 6:45am, I took the city bus # 127 to Jubilee Check post, where the couchsurfer Arun came to pick me up. As he had to work that day, I took buses into the Old City part. This involved three buses and 90 minutes. In cities, the points of interests are spread out, and couchsurfers tend to live outside the center, so this was expected.

The Old City was very authentic. Charminar (4 pillars) offers a great view from the top. There are big pearl and silver/gold jewelry areas, but the merchants hardly ever approached me. So I was able to browse and look around in peace.

This night, around 7pm, there were three bomb blasts about 10 km from the Old City, which took the lives of 30 some people and wounded 50 more. By this time, I was back at the couchsurfer’s house, and only came to know about it by a phone call from a friend. My host came home with carry-out food since going out into the street involved many police check points.

The next day, public transportation was back to normal, so I went to Golconda Fort (again, three buses and 90 minutes ride). I like forts. I was completely in heaven when I had visited Rajasthan for this reason.

But the Golconda Fort was equally great. It offers a 360-degree panorama view of the city of Hyderabad. In one area, you can see modern high-rises and domes of the old mosques behind the fort wall – I think this view represents today’s Hyderabad very well. But the heat and dehydration took a tall on me – on my 3rd day here, I had a massive headache and felt exhausted. So I slept the whole day away – and wrote this.

Notes from Cappadocia

Nobuko, a guest-blogging friend, is reporting from Cappadocia.

An overnight bus operated by Metro bus company took me from Istanbul to Cappadocia; this 10-hour-ride cost about 60 TL (about $35). The cost of things in Turkey was a shock to me coming from India. For a similar ride in India, I had paid 400 Rupees (about $8). But I have to say it is just because buses in Turkey are very nice, and even come with an attendant serving (non-alcoholic) drinks and snacks to passengers. They stop every few hours for restroom breaks / food, and even announce how long the stop is! And they are pretty punctual.

On a different note: I had enjoyed my bus experience in India as well: They have “sleeper” seats which can be closed off by a sliding door or curtain for privacy. It is tiny but you can lay down – though you cannot remain reclined for too long since the roads are bumpy and I nearly hit the ceiling several times. But they do not stop for restroom! One time I contemplated using a plastic bottle, but the bumpiness of the road prevented me from entertaining the idea any further. I begged the driver several times and he finally stopped one hour later to let me go into a bush.

OK, enough about my bathroom on bus stories. Now back to Cappadocia.

It had been my dream to go to Cappadocia ever since I was eight years old. And when I saw it with my own eyes, it was so much more than I imagined. Looking at pictures or even seeing videos does not do justice to the beauty and expansiveness of this place. I met a mother-daughter team from Mexico. We had breakfast at a family-run Cappadocia Cuisine. The mama looked tough at first sight, but she was very hospitable. She gave us coffee on the house. Then I checked into a dorm at the Flintstones Cave Hostel ($14 including a pretty good breakfast).

My friends and I rented a car from the rental car company, OZ Cappadocia, for two days. Driving in Cappadocia was my first time driving outside the U.S.A. Being low season, the roads were pretty much empty, so it was easy to drive. On the first day, we had great fun driving following the Red Tour route. The second day’s Green Tour route would have been difficult without a guide. So we hired a wonderful man named Ahmet. He normally works as part of the ground crew for the Royal Balloon company. He guided us to Pigeon Valley, the underground city of Kaimakli where I nearly had a panic attack (I realized I cannot do darkness or underground), and Ihlara valley.

The day went fine; the sunset was beautiful beyond what words could describe – until we were on the way back home. Ahmet decided to take a short cut which led us to the middle of field without a road in  pitch dark hours. As the ride became increasingly bumpy and we were getting further and further away from any light in sight, I asked him if he had driven that way before, to which he replied, “No, I have not”. Then he said cheerfully, with a big smile, “Remember the prison we passed this morning? We are just behind that prison!” I think he tried to make us feel better by telling us where we were. We asked, “That prison?” Ahmet, still smiling: “Yes, yes, that one! The one that had 12 people escaping this year!” We retorted,  “… OK, so we are not picking up any hitch hikers.”

After 40 minutes of driving through a field and getting nowhere, Ahmet finally decided to turn around and go back  the long way.

On the third day I was alone, since my Mexican friends had left. I rented a bicycle and rode from Goreme to Avanos, which is about 10 km away. Going slower is rewarding for the eyes. On the way back, I stopped at a pide shop and had chai and pide (Turkish pizza). I was the only customer and the owner and his worker were very kind. We showed each other’s pictures on our cameras while they talked to me in Turkish, which I do not understand, and I talked to them in English. They offered me a huge piece of Baklava and another cup of chai. In Turkey, I was offered many meals and even accommodations from various strangers and I accepted them. This kind of experience restores my faith in humanity. I need to acknowledge the priceless value of such encounters, because they prove that we can act out of kindness even when there is no incentive involved.


This was my last night. After picking up some beer (the Turkish Efes Pilsen is a very good beer, in my opinion), a guy from Oz Cappadocia (the rental car company) and Ahmet took me to a panorama look-out spot at night and made a bonfire! How fun! The next day they came to the bus stop to see me off. Yes, Cappadocia is a wonderful place to visit. For me, it is the people I met that made Cappadocia one of the best places to be in.

And Nobuko plans to return to Turkey by spring 2013.

Notes from Istanbul

My best Japanese friend, Nobuko, is traveling around the world and sending regular updates.  Her updates might help fellow travelers navigate and learn from her experience. This time, she reports from her month spent in Turkey.

Turkey really grew on me… I went there with no solid knowledge about what to expect. I was only going to visit Istanbul and Cappadocia. But it did not take long at all for me to really start liking the place and people.

I left Mumbai and landed in Istanbul on 01 Nov 2012. Since I started my transit from Goa, I had been up for a long time when I landed. The first impression of Istanbul as I took a tram into the city was very European. I made my way to the house of my gracious hostess, Burcin, and on the way could not help to be amazed how many mosques there were – you see minarets sticking into the sky everywhere!

As a typical tourist new in town, I tackled the major sites including the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace (all within a five-minute walk from each other) on my first day. Despite being in “low season”, the Hagia Sofia had a long queue but I managed to find an English tour group and skipped the long line – yes that’s right, you can skip the line if you are with an official guide. The inside was just amazing. I wish I had a better camera.

The Topkapi Palace covers a large area. The harem quarters takes up a considerable amount of space as the Sultan had to provide room and board for women whom he needed in order to feel like a man.

The Blue Mosque is beautiful inside. But there were so many tourists, too! It is still used as a place of worship. And I wonder how worshipers feel about tons of tourists outnumbering them and taking pictures while they pray. I liked sitting inside the mosques. High ceilings give a grand feeling to the space, but the quietness and the fully carpeted floor provide comfort – respite from the commotions outside on the streets.

The New Mosque (which is only 400 years old) was also very nice. It had more worshipers than tourists when I went there. For some reason, Turkish women liked snapping photos with me there.

On my second day, I got off the tram at Karakoy and walked over the Galata bridge towards the New Mosque. I found the unassuming Rusten Pasha Mosque (a.k.a. Rüstem Pasha Mosque) in the middle of a busy bazaar street, and then I followed the uphill streets to Suleymaniye Mosque which offers a great view.

I do not like crowds, in general. I can manage to enjoy being in them only when I am traveling, walking in a protest, or going to concerts. But the crowd at the spice market near the new mosque was too much! I got there by chance and before I knew it, I was sucked into the flow of people headed into the market. Turning around or joining the flow leaving the market took such an effort that I gave up and let the crowd push me along until I reached the end of it. So I did not really see anything there.

My hostess Burcin took me out to the Taksim area at night on a few occasions. Istanbul is also known as the City of Seven Hills – and because of the hills and non-grid layout of the streets, you get to enjoy getting lost and taking many great photos with cats in them, which makes you feel like you are the best artsy photographer in the world. Taksim also had lots of rooftop bars and comes to life at night more than during the day and I got to enjoy them thanks to Burcin! She also took me to Ortakoy for a sunset boat ride and apple flavored Nergile (a.k.a. hooka / Shisha). It reminded me of Fells Point in Baltimore a bit. I had a baked potato filled with all kinds of goodness. It was huge, like a size of 2+ tennis ball.

On the 3rd day, I took the tram to Yusufpasa stop and walked up to the Fatih Mosque. But I could not find the entrance. I just walked around and ended up at a grand bazaar which sold everything from used books to belts to food to whatever one may be looking for.

Istanbul at sunrise

Istanbul  is a modern and clean city with killer views – I find it the most beautiful city in the world out of all the places I have been to.

Notes from Mt. Abu, Udaipur, Jaipur, and Pushkar in India

My globetrotting friend, Nobuko, is posting again from her current visit to India.

I have been only a tourist for the past several days, which has kept me away from cyber cafes, and once I was ready to write some updates, there was no cyber cafe or just unreliable electricity supplies. Today is 4 July, Independence day, in the U.S.A.

26 June 26  at Mt Abu

My experience sucked. The only good thing is the cool temperature we are having. Merchants are liars, and the manager of the hostel (Shri Ganesh Hotel – don’t stay there if you go) was very unwelcoming – in general just bad energy – and also lied to me and other guests about bus time – my guess is that he hoped that I would miss the bus so I would have to end up using their transport service.

He knew I had already gone to the bus station and inquired about the schedule. Yet he had a nerve to tell me that the schedule had changed, and I was informed of the old schedule. I ignored him and was able to get a bus to Udaipur as I planned. Anyway, six college students from Pune I met in Bhuj were there too, so I had  great company to dine and walk around the town with.

27 June 2012 from Mt Abu to Udaipur

The students and I shared our itinerary to Udaipur, so we spent some time together there. They found a great hostel called Hanuman Ghat, which is in a quiet area, but has a nice roof top terrace and an awesome view of the famed lake and palace!  The owner Baba is smiley and has a striking resemblance to the God Hanuman himself (I say this in a friendly way)!

28 June 2012  in Udaipur

The students and I visited the palace and hired a guide, which was a great decision, because he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Some parts of the palace are still used as the residence of former royal family, so it was off-limit. One section of the palace is converted into a luxury hotel which costs a crazy amount of money to stay, of course. The Queen’s gGrden can also be rented for a wedding or other events, but it costs $40,000 per night to do so. I am waiting for one of those six students I met to get married there and be invited to the wedding!

The students were due to return home that night. Before we parted, they gave me a farewell gift – they called it a momento (leather bound notebook as a diary)!!  It was a very nice gesture and made me feel so special. Realistically speaking, I should be the one to give them gifts for taking good care of me. I was very moved by it. Thank you, to the students.

I met another wonderful Indian person at the hostel and he was going to Jaipur the same evening. So I decided to hitch along. At 9:30pm, the bus left Udaipur and we arrived i Jaipur at 6 a.m. the next morning. We had sleepers which are like capsules, but you have  privacy, because you can shut a sliding door to sleep while keeping windows open for much needed air.

But the ride was really, REALLY bumpy. The bounces were so big that my body lifted off of the sleeping surface countless time – I prefer going through a turbulence in an airplane.

29 June 2012 in Jaipur

It is called the Pink city. And it is really pink. My companion and I stayed inside the old city wall, which made it easy for us to go out into the heat for a few hours and retreat back to the hostel to rest, and repeat this multiple times throughout the day. We found a lassi stand that serves the best lassi I have ever known, and a stand that serves a food called Poha. This I want to make myself – it’s a mix of rise, tomatoes, onions, cirantro, masala powder, and finished off with lime juice. 10 rupees for this tasty snack.

The merchants and rickshaw drivers were lots more aggressive and persistent in Jaipur, and I was the magnet for them. So I purchased a tie dyed scarf. A nice woman showed me how to wrap it and conceal my face. After that, obscured also by my sunglasses, the approach decreased by 90%. Amazing!  And it kept me from getting sunburned and my nostrils clean at the end of the day.

We visited Hawa Mahal (the Wind Palace) where court women used to live (or were locked up, depends on your view). It was a small place, but it was beautiful and offered many spots that just make you want to snap a photo and stroke your ego by making you feel like you have the best eyes for selecting great views.

At night we ate at the Ganesh Restaurant. It is so hard to find as their sign is very tiny and hangs over the entrance to a very small stairway. We looped around and finally found it on the second try. Once we walked up the stairs, there was yet another sign saying Ganesh Restaurant with an arrow pointing to the left, directing us to a dark path on a rooftop.

At the end of the path, we finally  saw lights and there it was! We had a server who looked stern. But he smiled once we ordered Ganesh Special, the spicy Indian way. He smiled once again when he saw us cleaning up all plates. This made us feel like winners.

30 June 2012 in Jaipur

We visited Nahargar Fort at 10am. The rikshaw driver dropped us off 1/3 way up the zigzag path, so we walked up the remaining 1.5 km at a snail speed. Once we got there, we found out that a Bollywood film called Shera (due to be released in November) was being filmed!  There were lots of stuntmen and extras in period costumes, many of whom wanted to take pictures with me for some reason. I think they just were bored of waiting for their turns and also wanted to have an excuse to touch a woman. Now that I think about it, I should have charged them 100 rupees for each photo opportunity. There was a famous movie star name Sanjay Dutt also. It was so much fun hanging out with the crew members and the security guys that we stayed there for several hours.

About the stares – In Jaipur, a touristy city like Jaipur where I would assume they have seen enough Asian faces, men would come directly in front of me, face to face, to stare at me up and down (including my boobs), when I did not cover my face. No discretion here. Open and somewhat gross curiosity, their expressions annoyed me somewhat, so I stared back at them. Sort of a game to see which one would give up staring first. But they continued to stare for a long while.

1 July 2012 from Jaipur to Pushkar

We visited the observatory – Indians have been very keen on learning about  space since a long time ago. My companion Mansoor had to go home on this day, but he accompanied me to the bus station and made sure that I got on the right bus. He was such a gentleman. Thank you, Mansoor.

The ride to Pushkar was supposed to be only 2.5 hours. But it lasted four hours. The heat was almost unbearable – reminded me of the very dry and high heat of the Mojave Desert, it was almost suffocating. When I arrived in Pushkar, I was exhausted. Settled in a hostel with a swimming pool and plunged right in when I finished a registration. No wonder, the temperature here is 43 C = 107 F. If you have been to a Bikram Yoga (AKA Hot yoga), you know how hot it is.

2 and 3 July 2012 in Pushkar (only in my hostel room)

Not much to report on these days. I don’t know if it is the food I ate in Jaipur, or the first dinner I had in Pushkar at the hostel, I suffered from a (nicely put) stomach problem. I only left to get food at expensive, but reputable places, to buy water and toilet papers, and to briefly check email. The air is so hot that all a ceiling fan can do is to spread and push down the risen heat onto my bed. But turning it off was equally unbearable. I kept on drinking ginger/lemon tea which helped.

4 July 2012  in Pushkar (not in the bathroom anymore)

I changed the hostel since the first one was kind of unfriendly. I am now at Aroma Hotel which is close to the lake and bazaar, as well as to the desert stretch at the outskirt of this small town. I have not seen anything here yet. So to be continued!

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