Tossing the dice in Vegas

As you land in McCaren International Airport, you see a line of buildings rising out of the flat desert.

The last time I was here, Hunter S. Thompson had just written ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.’ My ex and I were driving cross-country from Boston,escaping the chains of weekly family dinners that would one day seem like a good idea.

We settled in a campground on Lake Mead.  My makeup melted in my purse, which was on the front seat of our car. The heat was suffocating and I spent the whole time in a blue bathing suit my younger sister had sewn for me from scratch.

The “strip”  was then located on Fremont Street, what they now call the old downtown.  Dark, smoky casinos seemed shabby and filled with small-time criminals trying to roll their way out of whatever trouble they were in. I didn’t much like gambling, so I just played the slot machines for hours while my ex logged time on the blackjack tables.

It wasn’t glamorous like it is now, so I never came back.  Today’s strip is in an unincorporated area with an ironic name: Paradise.

As soon as we ambled down the jet walkway, carry-ons in hand, shiny neon machines greeted us, as if to let us know we were in Vegas.

A man at the Taxi sign told us we could buy shuttle tickets to the Venetian. We stopped at Caesar’s Palace, where cartoonish statues of Greek statesmen dotted the grounds.  Looking at the map, I saw New York New York and Paris, Las Vegas hotels.  We passed the Eiffel Tower.

Crowds thronged on the streets in the relentless sun. People seemed sweaty but they kept going. Maybe they were just taking walks on the famous strip.

According to Wikipedia, Frank Sinatra and his gang broke  color and ethnic barriers here.  Sinatra wouldn’t perform unless Sammy Davis, Jr., was given a room in the hotel.  Dean Martin performed here, too.  Now, the Venetian runs a Frank musical most nights.

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The Zinfandel Trail

It’s a great way to spend a slow, sunny weekend afternoon. Drive up into the Cupertino foothills and follow Montebello Road up the mountain, past the quarry. Park in the lot. The trailhead starts just across the road.

Keep walking til you see the sign for the Zinfandel Trail. It’s about two miles long and takes you to the Cabernet, Zinfandel and other wines made at the historic winery. If you follow the Bear Meadow Trail, you can hike to a small pond fit for a picnic.

Watching the ships go down the Bosphorus

Nothing’s better than watching the ships go down the Bosphorus Strait from my family’s vacation home in Kanlica, Istanbul, Turkey.

It’s not a fancy place, but the floor to ceiling windows  give you a view you’ll remember the rest of your life. The place could probably use a remodel, in American terms. There’s a small flat-screen TV, but most channels are snowy.

When I was younger, every night we would eat out on the patio, which ends in a drop dead cliff. None of us children fell off, miraculously. Later on, none of the grandkids did, either. In Turkey, the  safety rules were lax. It’s like that on the roads, too. Whatever God wants to happen, will happen. It’s not up to us because God knows all things. I swear, that’s the attitude.
But I’ve never felt more alive than standing out on that patio, looking at the sliver of sea, with majestic ships from Russia, England, and neighboring countries, floating in front of me. The water turns pitch black and the Istanbul lights dance, dance on the European side across the way. You hear music and cars honking, it’s just all there at a distance. It makes me want to call everyone I ever knew and tell them to come over to have a glass of raki.
Here in the States, we all huddle in safety in our own private caves, homes we’ve bought or rented, keeping to ourselves, scared we’ll reveal something that could be used against us in a court of law.
It’s a different society, another way of looking at life.

English: Istanbul, Turkey

English: Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Try to learn about your neighbor. Where are they from? How did they get here? Not polite to ask?
These are the best questions.
I wish you were here the night my brother was married at the Esma Sultan Museum on the Bosphorus. Everyone danced until all hours of the night and even Orhan Pamuk was there. At 2 a.m., my brother took the stragglers out on a rented water taxi. I almost didn’t get to go because I’m not a good Near Eastern girl, never was. But it was so sweet, to meet the buildings on the Bosphorus just before the dawn, that I’m glad I got to go. The people who ran the boat passed out fish sandwiches and when we got off on the other side, we stopped at a café for a very early breakfast. The lights twinkled on, dawn came, we walked to my grandmother’s apartment and fell asleep in my grandfather’s study as the gray light seeped in.
I couldn’t see the Bosphorus, but I felt its magical presence everywhere.

Winging it through Paris in August

Full of information we had gathered from guidebooks by Rick Steves, Michelin, Frommer’s, Lonely Planet,  and Internet guides like About.com, we landed at Charles DeGaulle Airport without a real itinerary last August.

 

I had spent an academic year in Paris on rue de Fleurus, near where Gertrude Stein lived, years ago when I attended Boston University. I’ve returned once or twice on vacation since then. So everywhere we went I remembered a bit more: how the Louvre once had a cafeteria near the entrance, the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore red couch on which I felt perfectly comfortable reading.

This time, I had booked a couple of tours from the States, just to anchor our trip. But, as always, there was a three-day learning curve as we settled into Hotel de L’Abbaye, 10, rue Cassette, in the heart of the 6eme, the Saint- Germain-des-Prés district.  Galleries and upscale shops pepper the sixth arrondissement, sliced by the rue Bonaparte and the rue Saint Germain.  The Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, once hangouts for intellectuals like de Beauvoir and Sartre, now attract tourists and fashionistas wanting to breathe in the rarified air—and plunk down quite a few euros per café.

Our cozy “classic” room at L’Abbaye started at about 265 euros a night, including breakfast in a charming inner courtyard where we greeted the other guests over café crèmes every morning. The room was so small we kept bumping into each other, but the window overlooked the patio area below. The hotel also have suites for families.Steves recommends booking the cheapest hotel you can tolerate, and  buying produce and snacks at the local grocery stands to save money, but this time we wanted to be comfortable. Without this home base, we wouldn’t have met Debbie and Brian Horn, Francophiles from Dallas, Texas, who return every couple of years.

Debbie showed up at breakfast loaded down with guidebooks I’d never seen before, and  made lists of places to visit each day. Here are some places she shared with me:  Deyrolle, 46 rue de Bac, a taxidermist mentioned by Adam Gopnik in his book From Paris to the Moon.

Synchronistically, I had also received another recommendation to the store, which has an imposing stuffed giraffe and bears and promises to be a great place to go with kids. Debbie also gets stores to ship her purchases home, and spends time shopping at the Marché de puces (flea markets) around Paris, including a little known one called Marche de Flavin. One of her treasures was a French version of Lincoln Logs designed in castle shapes which she bought for her young sons. The other person who mentioned the Deyrolle taxidermist was my brother-in-law, Neil, who lives near the Jardin des Plantes.  We met him for dinner at Le Vin Sobre, 25 rue Feuillantines.

Fans covered Serge Gainsbourg’s house at 5bis rue de Verneuil in Paris with graffiti. The popular singer died in 1991 and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.

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Paris' 2CV tour.

Paris’ 2CV tour.

a neighborhood café, where we had one of the best meals we’ve had so far. The restaurant is “du quartier,” or of the quarter, not Alain Ducasse–that three-star haute cuisine place at Plaza Athenée. My gazpacho came out creamy and cold, the main dishes satisfied and kir and the recommended wine added to our conversation. Neil suggested we could eat well in any corner of Paris by finding such cafes and ordering the “plats du jour.”

I’m not naïve enough to think it’s that easy, but I believe it’s possible to eat very well in Paris without going through all your Euros, if you’re a veteran. The other thing I noticed is that real Parisian women eat a lot. Many of them don’t get fat, but a fair amount could stand to lose a few, like us.  They do walk everywhere! The food is rich and some people make an effort to eat less dessert.  We have yet to sit down at a restaurant table which isn’t already set with wine glasses, however! Since August was the end of the grand vacances here, the term was broadcast repeatedly on television and in the newspapers.  Ads on the Metro urged parents to buy their kids sweaters and other clothes for school since it’s now the rentrée, the return to school and work, which occurred at the end of the month. Our Eiffel Tower tour guide told me that most people get a mandatory five weeks of vacation. In France and much of Europe, people seem to work for the time off. Whereas in the States, we rarely have more than three weeks’ vacation, and we consider finding meaningful work more important than getting time off. Which is better? In August, many restaurants, like the famous Jules Verne with spectacular views from the Eiffel Tower, close down.  Other shops have shortened hours, as we found out when we walked past an antique store  sign reading, ‘August hours: 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.’ Every month in Paris has a different feel to it, so check openings and festivals before you go. Travel agents will often know, or you can go to  the event’s web site.  I find winter in Paris too dreary, but any other season has its pluses. The Paris Museum Pass proved very convenient, since it gets you into 60 museums, including the Arc de Triomphe and other attractions.  A two-day adult  pass is 105 euros, and you don’t have to stand in the museum lines.

Yesterday we took a tour with architecture student Cortine in a1973 open topped-deux-chevaux car, an excellent way to get our bearings in Paris. The tin-can cars were popular when I was in college as a cheap way to get around, but now they’re considered vintage and they’re being refurbished. I would recommend people do this  at the beginning of their trip, not the end—it will help you decide what you want to see. You can book from a selection at www.4-roues-sous1parapluie.com .

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On a narrow street in Chartres, this unexpected lingerie store showed how important fine underwear is to French women, who are said to dress from the inside out. 

We stopped at Serge Gainsborough’s house, which was on a tiny side street and covered with graffiti from fans. His longtime companion, Jane Birkin, left him towards the end of his life, but she was popular during that era (the 60s). Our one and a half hour “unknown Paris” tour took us from Saint-Germain- des- Prés to Hôtel des Invalides ( site of Napoléon’s tomb), the Marais district, past the Centre George Pompidou, the Louvre, the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Élysée, the Palais Royale, Les Halles, and back to our Hotel de l’Abbaye. Nightlife in Paris goes on and on, which is why I love Paris.  We spent $275 a piece for tickets to the Lido, which I loved. Some more blasé types might consider it clichéd, still, the costumes and food definitely entertained us. A night at a cabaret requires a reservation, but otherwise, just take a walk down the street and stop at a local café or club. No shortage of things to do in Paris.

about me

Ever since I was a teenager in the flat green suburbs of Detroit, I’ve wanted to get out and see what’s ‘over there’. And nothing thrills me more than going somewhere new.
Born in Ankara, Turkey, I consider myself to be from Istanbul, where my extended family still lives. By the time I was three, though, my parents and I were on a KLM flight to LaGuardia Airport and eventually to Brooklyn. I loved the roar of the daily parade in Times Square and on Fifth Avenue. At night, my dad would set up his easel and capture the city’s colors and bright lights with his oils. By day, he finished his second residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital. My parents’ visas soon ran out. After two years, we moved to Montreal, Canada, where we would drive up to Mont Royal, the mountain after which the city was named, to take in the cityscape. I learned French in school.
Once we got our green cards, my folks,  baby sister – she came back in Brooklyn – and I moved to Lapeer, Michigan (near Flint). After living in cities like New York, Istanbul, and Montreal, though, the isolation of country living scared me and I had constant nightmares about aliens landing in our vast back yard. I think everyone was happier in suburban Birmingham, where my twin brothers were born.
When I got into Boston University, I was delighted. My teachers inspired me and I heard about the journalism program through a friend whose boyfriend wrote for the Harvard Crimson. After Watergate happened, I was hooked. I read everything I could, and wrote for several local publications.
Beacon Hill, the Commons, Cambridge– I loved exploring every bit of it. Sophomore year, I enrolled in a study abroad program through BU, sitting in on classes at the University of Paris, Jussieu, as well. I lived with two different French families and took in Paris’ nooks and crannies, determined not to visit the traditional tourist sites. I didn’t think I could ever come back to the States, but I wanted to be a journalist, and BU’s J-school beckoned.
My career has mainly centered on community journalism. I reported for the Dedham Transcript and the East Boston Community News in Mass. Once I moved to California, I reported for and then edited two weekly newspapers on the San Francisco Peninsula: the Redwood City Almanac and the Foster City Progress. I’ve also freelanced for the San Jose Mercury News Magazine SV, Bay Area Parent, and The Northern California Healthcare Journal.
In addition to the places mentioned above, I’ve lived in Vermont and England, due to my ex-husband’s Apple assignment. I’ve visited Maui and Honolulu, Hawaii, Seattle and Vancouver, Washington, Texas, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Sarasota, Siesta Key, Del Ray Beach, Miami, Boca Raton, Orlando, Cape Canaveral, St. Petersburg, and Tampa, Florida; Provincetown, Marblehead, Milton, and Boston, Massachusetts; Washington DC; New Hampshire; Maine; Reno, Lake Mead and Las Vegas, Nevada; Colorado; Utah; Buffalo, Saratoga Springs, Woodstock, and Rhinebeck, New York; Iowa;  Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Overseas, I’ve traveled to Amsterdam, Delft, Bosch, and Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Arles, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Cassis, Chamonix, Chartres, Versailles, Lyon, and Dijon in France, and London, Brighton, Stoke-on-Trent and Liverpool, England, Florence, Milan, Rome, Pisa, Sirena, and the Vatican, Italy, Alanya, Antalya, Pamukkale, Izmir, Konya, Fethiye, Bodrum, and Selcuk, Ephesus, Turkey. There’s much more to see and share.

I’ve had the surreal experience of feeling Turkish in Turkey, but looking and acting American.
Here, they think I’m ethnic or European, whatever, but they know I’m not American. People often question me as if I represent all near-Easterners. I often feel like a global citizen. Maybe I can help you become one, too.
Travel can be a great eye-opener. If we can understand other cultures and patterns,  we can all be global citizens.