Thursday, July 30, 2009

Book 85: Foundation's Edge

Asimov published the original Foundation Trilogy in the '50s, but then added a few more novels in the '80s.  He also used this as an opportunity to incorporate his other novels and series into this same universe (kind of like almost all of Stephen King's novels now relate to The Dark Tower series).  I'd enjoyed the original trilogy and would have been fine if it had simply been left where it was, but this novel definitely kept me interested.
One of the politicians from Terminus suspects the Second Foundation was not actually destroyed at the end of the last novel, and that they continue to manipulate events to make sure the Seldon Plan comes to frutition.  Of course, Trevize hates this idea because in his mind it takes away the idea of free will.  As a result of some political scheming, he ends up attached to an old historian in search of Earth.  Pelorat, the historian, has an interest in Earth unlike pretty much everyone else in the universe which is based on both historical and biological evidence.  All the planets have clearly been settled by one originating source since the same life forms exist throughout.  Most of the planets had little natural life to begin with, and much if it barely remains now.  Trevize uses the search for Earth as a cover to discover the Second Foundation, and also decides that it is very likely the location of the Second Foundation (which is of course wrong).
Meanwhile, Gendibal, a promising young speaker of the Second Foundation has seen a flaw in the plan - the lack of flaw.  This gives him the idea that someone else besides the Second Foundation is manipulating events for an unknown purpose.  He believes that Trevize is somehow the key to all of this.
As I said, I enjoyed the novel, mainly because I liked the idea of the search for Earth - I'm also a Battlestart Galactica fan.  I always enjoy seeing how authors think that Earth/current society might be viewed or forgotten by future generations, and how certain actions might be analyzed.  As a result, I was intrigued and liked Pelorat's parts where he explains his research quite a bit.  Trevize was cocky but for the most part, I liked the character.  I didn't really warm up to Gendibal much - he was just too full of himself and his search wasn't quite as interesting to me.
While Asimov had already started including stronger female characters in the last two novels of his original trilogy, the years between the novels definitely are noticeable in relation to gender portrayals.  The current Mayor of Terminus, and therefore the most powerful person in the universe, is a woman, Mayor Branno.  Additionally, she is very intelligent and able to manipulate events.  I liked her better in the first half, though, since in the second half, she seemed too imperialistic.  Gendibal takes a Hamish woman (the planet the Second Foundation inhabits is a farming world, and she is one of the locals that serve as a cover) on his trip with him to use her mind as an alert system (due to complicated mind reading things).  At first it rather annoyed me how much he condescended to her which was due to her status as a nonmentalist.  He obviously thinks that as part of the farming community she is not as intelligent or developed as he.  Actually this whole part kind of reminded me of Octavia Butler's Patternmaster.  However, she plays a much more important role later, and also shows how easy it was to dupe Gendibal due to her gender and social class (much like in Second Foundation, a woman acts like a complete idiot and ditz as a cover).  Trevize, while likable, is also portrayed as a complete womanizer.  At one point he meets a 23 year old woman and keeps referring to her as an untrained girl - which was annoying considering that she was 23, and given his leadership, he should know better than to think of women as girls.  The last part of the novel is a little bothersome, though, since the young woman keeps getting ogled by 50+ year old men, and makes comments about how she dressed liked that for their pleasure and has a body people have died for.  However, Asimov explains the greater motivation behind her desire to please.  Still could have done without some of it, but at least it makes a kind of logical sense within the novels.  While Asimov has included more women in this one, his male characters still have a tendency to underestimate them.  It's also interesting that Trevize and Gendibal both have very strong female antagonists/politicians to contend with in their own worlds that are part of the reason they end up on these missions.  In a way, the female characters fall into certain stereotypical categories: the sexless shrew, the sex kitten and the innocent, pure Madonna like figure.  Asimov uses these stereotypes and adds deeper layers to the personas.  While the novels are definitely still male-centric, it was nice to see that at least women are appearing in them and playing a role.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Music Video

Breaking Benjamin - Breath

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book 84: If Today Be Sweet

If Today Be Sweet by Thrity Umrigar

This is the third novel I've read by Umrigar, and as always, I enjoyed it. While her novels don't always have huge twists and turns, I feel like she always has an enjoyable story to tell about day to day life, and the twists of time. She is good at character development. This may not be on the same caliber as her last two novels but I still liked it, and her characters, especially Tehmina. Of course, unlike her other two novels, this one has a much happier ending so some of the poignancy of her other novels is lost.

Tehmina is currently visiting her son and his family in the States from Bombay. Her husband died earlier in the year, and she is now faced with the decision of where to spend the rest of her life. Her son wants her to move to Ohio but she feels conflicted about leaving behind her life in Bombay, the apartment she shared with her beloved husband and just the hustle and bustle of her neighborhood.

Most of the book shows Tehmina's adjusting to American life, and reminiscing about Bombay as she tried to make up her mind. As I said, given the premise of the novel, the book is of course much more about the character interactions and the mixing of two cultures than any large, twisting plots. Fortunately, Umrigar knows how to write characters and make them sympathetic with all their flaws. Unlike, say, the last book I read.

Book 83: A Ship Made of Paper

A Ship Made of Paper by Scott Spencer

I didn't really like this book that much. I was more than happy to put it down temporarily to read The Secret Speech. The novel's protagonist is Daniel Emerson who is slightly obsessed with Iris Davenport. Daniel is practically married to Kate, and Iris is married though her husband lives in the city (New York). Kate's daughter, Ruby, and Iris's son, Nelson, are in the same preschool class, and it is there that Daniel usually interacts with her.

After a storm, Daniel is stuck at Iris's house, and they begin an affair. None of the characters are really that likable - I felt like Daniel was just kind of stupid. Spencer also tries to add complications to his novel with race - Daniel is white while Iris is black but I'm not sure how effective it was. In fact, since this novel takes place in the early '90s, Kate is obsessed with the O.J. Simpson trial throughout, and there is also a rather stupid plot point about some black kids that escaped from a juvenile correctional facility during the storm. I'm sure it's meant to show the racism of all the people in the area, but it just seemed obnoxious after a certain point.

I'm not even sure if I believed Daniel's declarations that he was in love with Iris - I felt like maybe Kate was correct in asserting that part of the reason Daniel was attracted to her was because he felt like her race was exotic or something. Furthermore, I just didn't see the two of them having a future together - Daniel glorified Iris too much and it didn't seem like he even knew her that well when his obsession began. Iris, on the other hand, doesn't seem all too capable of making any final decisions, her constantly changing thesis topic simply being an example. Of course, Kate and Iris's husband Hampton don't come off as too sympathetic either. I really just wanted Spencer to come up with a solution and end this whole mess.

Book 82: The Secret Speech

The Secret Speech by Tom Rob Smith

I really enjoyed Smith's last novel, Child 44. This sequel takes place three years later, and Leo is now in charge of a homocide department. After Khrushchev gives a secret speech, some former MGB agents start being harrassed and stalked as a result of their involvments in arrests and torture. Leo discovers that their common link is one particular prisoner whom he also has a connection to due his former work.

The novel was strongest in the first half when Leo was trying to uncover exactly what was going on. The last half is more of a series of action sequences. One of the most interesting things about the series is simply the fact that they are set in Soviet Russia, adding a whole extra layer of intricacies to the politics involved in these people's lives. With that, Smith does a good job of throwing in important events from the history of the Soviet Union and using them as the settings of his novels. There are also a few twists throughout the book that help keep the plot going forward.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Music Video

Live - Lightning Crashes

Book 81: The Savage Garden

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

I picked this up at Waterstone's in Edinburgh as part of a "Buy 2, get the 3rd free" deal (as excited as I was to finally be in a bookstore with books in English I was also very aware of the pound/dollar conversion rate and the available luggage space so I did a rather good job of limiting myself). I'd never heard of the author before, but I definitely enjoyed the novel.

It's a mystery, but especially the second mystery that Adam is trying to solve regarding Emilio, never seems that hard - Adam has his suspect early on, and it's just a matter of finding clues to actually make it stick.

The novel is set in a villa near Florence in 1958. Adam, an architecture student, has the opportunity to visit the villa and write a paper on the beautiful memorial garden. The memorial garden hints to a hidden secret because while gorgeous, certain things about the set up just seem slightly off. While there, Adam also becomes interested in Emilio's death, the heir to the estate that died during the Nazi occupation. While the overall story was entertaining, I definitely preferred Adam's work in the garden, finding the hidden clues and symbols that represented an entirely different story than seen at the surface to the more modern murder mystery aspect of the novel. Of course, between the back cover and movies such as Quills, certain things seemed rather obvious, but it didn't affect the overall enjoyment of the story.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book 80: From Dead to Worse

From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris

There were about three major plot points in this novel, but unlike in many of the other novels in the series, they don't intermix. Instead, they occur one right after the other (really, this book could have very well been broken up into parts I, II and III). This wasn't necessarily a bad thing; the novel simply didn't have an overall driving story, and I think it actually worked pretty well.

I'd describe this book as Harris's version of housecleaning: since so much baggage has been created from the rest of the series, Harris uses this book to tie up some loose ends and as a set up for new plots that I'm sure will happen in the rest of the series. The rivalry between Alcide and the pack master is taken care of, the weakening state of the vampires of Louisiana is all dealt with by way of a hostile take over, both of which will probably end up playing heavily into the next novels. Sookie breaks things off with Quinn, and another one of her admirers seems to have moved on. Some problems that Sookie's been dealing with for a while may finally be taken care of or at least partially. Of course, new charactes are also introduced such as her great-grandfather, Niall, and at the very end, Sookie meets her dead cousin's son, who also has psychic abilities.

Given how much has been going on in the series, I think it was a very good idea to devote a book to more or less setting up things for later in the series as well as getting rid of a few characters that had outgrown their purpose. I only wish she'd get rid of Bill completely instead of having him show up every once and a while and declare his love, although at least Sookie doesn't seem too affected by it most of the time. What can I say, if Sookie's going to go for a vampire, Eric is much more entertaining.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book 79: Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Occasionally, there are 5Ks as part of the Cannonball Read I'm participating in. This involves a theme or particular challenge for a two week period: for example, the first one was to read five books that were over four hundred pages long in that time. The most recent 5K was titled "Locally Grown" and the idea was to read five books set in places you have lived/visited or want to live/visit (the visit part was an expansion on the original parameters when a few people made comments that they hadn't lived anywhere interesting enough to have books set there). I've lived in Illinois, Kentucky, Washington State, Virginia (okay, extended visit of three months, and another of five months coming up), Iraq and Germany. I've visited quite a few more places, but really not that many when it comes down to it, and want to live in a few different places as well (New York, Great Britain, maybe Korea, maybe Italy - those last two are more along the lines of "I wouldn't complain about being stationed there"). Anyway, I read The Children of Men and The Children of Henry VIII due to the England setting (I loved London), Eat, Pray, Love for Italy (Rome!), Dreams from My Father for Illinois, and Assassination Vacation because I figured it would take place at least partially in Illinois. However, Washington D.C. which I've visited also played a large role. Naturally. It's a book about presidential assassinations after all.

I think I'd actually heard about this through reviews of other Cannonball Read participants. One review in particular seemed to like the author but didn't think this book was one of her best. Still, I figured the premise was interesting. Vowell jams a lot of information about presidents in this book - of course, everyone knows about Lincoln, but she also shed light on some of the less knowns, Garfield and McKinley. From her stories and descriptions, I actually really liked Garfield - he sounded very humble, and loved to read.

Vowell had some very funny and sarcastic parts in this book. However, it had its issues. The chapters occasionally seemed a little too disjointed and disconnected. Some of her tangents were funny but sometimes the way she'd jump around between topics could get distracting. I'm also not sure I ever really understood how she'd gotten the idea to write this book - she mentions becoming more interested in the topic as a result of Iraq and the Bush administration. I enjoyed her love of history, and her descriptions of her nephew, who might end up with some serious issues, are incredibly cute.

It is interesting to wonder what type of legacy these presidents (she writes about Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley) would have left if they hadn't been killed. Garfield of course was killed before he could accomplish much though he seemed to have very good intentions; Lincol had already done quite a lot but as a result of his assassination he was immediately turned into a martyr - how much more balanced would our views of him be if he hadn't been killed and taken on immediate god-like status? I'm sure he would be seen as a great president no matter what, but we might be more critical of some of his decisions. Maybe we would be more willing to condemn McKinley as the imperialist he was if he hadn't been shot down.

The book was good enough for me to want to read another of Vowell's before making my final decision - after all, the topic was rather original and she had her moments of quirky humor. Possibly with such a large topic, it was hard to break things down so a slightly different and less broad topic would probably work very well for her style.

Book 78: Dreams from My Father

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

I feel like I'm incredibly late in reading this book. Being from Illinois, of course, I'd heard of the senator comparatively early. Naturally, I also wanted him to win the presidential election; however, I really didn't do that much research into who he was - I read all my favorite blogs for information about the candidates, but actually go out and read a autobiography? Yeah, not so much.

Obviously, I have no idea what his political aspirations were when he wrote this book, so he was very honest about himself, to an extent. Of course, it's been almost twenty years since people asked Clinton if he'd ever smoked pot, and since then we've had a president that had alcohol and cocaine issues, but still, to honestly make a passing reference to weed and other drugs is kind of surprising.

In some parts, Obama started getting a little bit too philosophical on me - not necessarily bad, but while reading this I was more interested in the human story. Given that originally he had intended to write a book about race and law, however, it made sense that he would occassionally veer off in that direction. In fact, since one of the reasons Obama even had a chance to write this book was because of his election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, I wouldn't have minded hearing more about his graduate school experiences. However, Obama focuses mainly on his struggle to find himself, and by the time he reaches law school, it seems that he has become settled in who he is and resolved most of the inner conflicts he has had concerning his background and family history.

While I knew the very basic background, it was good to actually finally learn some of the finer details of Obama's background. I didn't always necessary agree with him in this book but it seemed like a good indication of the type of person he was, especially since, as I said, I don't think he would have been planning his presidential campaign that far back and therefore wouldn't have been too worried about the picture he presented. Of course, I'm sure he embellished parts or made himself appear better in points (who doesn't do that after all?), but there are also enough parts where he doesn't to make it feel honest.

Monday, July 13, 2009


My friend Jaime is running a half marathon in August and using it as an opportunity to raise money for Soldiers. If anyone is interested in making a donation, here's the link.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Music Video

R.E.M. - Losing My Religion

I went out in Prague last night, and somehow managed to hear this song twice. Music in Europe can be rather random, to say the least.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Book 77: Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

When it comes Oprah's Book Club, there tend to be two types of reactions: people flock out to buy her recommendations, or other people then avoid them at all cost. I used to be one of the later, until she started picking a bunch of books I'd already read and liked, and realized that maybe her taste in books wasn't all bad. However, that did not mean I started following her every command, either. Instead, I'm somewhat wary of the books she chooses but it won't prevent me from reading them. I think the main problem most people have with Oprah is more the phenonmenon around her than anything else.

I don't know if this book would have become as popular as it was without Oprah, and if it hadn't been so well-known, the title alone probably would have been enough to prevent me from reading it - specifically, the word pray. I'm so not religious.

However, it was an entertaining read. It's not a journey everyone could recreate - after all, she has a much better financial background than some, and also had been able to sell the idea of the book before she even embarked on her journey. As a result, it's not really something that the average person could do. Not that I'd want to spend four months in an Ashram in India learning to meditate. Or even necessarily hang out on the beach in Bali for four months, though she made it sound amazing. Italy, on the other hand - I'd love to live in Italy. I loved Rome, and I really, really want to take a week of leave to travel through Venice, Florence and Milan. In fact, while I feel like I'm done with Germany and ready to move on, I would definitely be willing to stay in the Army and come back to Europe if I could be guaranteed Vicenza, Italy (or somehow be an Army officer stationed at the air force base in England, now that would be awesome).

Gilbert herself is a likeable character, and very saracastic despite her whole hippie inner zen thing, which she even makes fun of on occasion. She's a very outgoing person so she manages to meet and make new friends everywhere she goes and keeps in touch with old ones who make appearances throughout the book. I actually really liked this quote from her book:

I'm so surprised sometimes to notice that my sister is a wife and a mother, and I am not. Somehow I always thought it would be the opposite. I thought it would be me who would end up with a houseful of muddy boots and hollering kids, while Catherine would be living by herself, a solo act, reading alone at night in bed. We grew up into different adults than anyone might have foretold when we were children. It's better this way, though, I think. Against all predictions, we've each created lives that tally with us. Her solitary nature means she needs a family to keep her from loneliness; my gregarious nature means I will never have to worry about being alone, even when I'm single. (92)

Maybe it's because I kind of see myself a little bit in that description of her sister. I tend to be rather quiet, and reserved on occasion. I like company sometimes but I also love traveling alone. However, traveling alone for me means walking through the city, seeing everything I want to see and sitting at cafes and parks reading. Traveling alone for other people tends to be seen as an opportunity to meet new people. I have no clue how or where to meet people and usually no real desire to, either. I have no desire to have children, and am perfectly happy with my life right now, and my books, but I definitely wouldn't be adverse to having that one person/partner to do things with. I think that actually tends to be my problem in relationships, too: it's not necessarily that I'm in a hurry to settle down or feel like I have to be married by a certain time in my life; however, I don't really like dating that much - I like the relationship part much more so it's easy for me to be settled in a relationship once I'm in one because I don't miss the "thrill" of dating and meeting new people.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book 76: The Children of Henry VIII

The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

I've read Weir's previous book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and enjoyed her style. Tudor England is probably one of the more popular periods of history as evidenced by the popularity of Phillipa Gregory, Showtime's The Tudors, and a variety of movies about Elizabeth to name just a few, and I too fall into the trend. One thing that was kind of cool is that I was reading this book while in Scotland, and there were mentions of Mary, Queen of Scots, and John Knox. But anyway, on to the actual book.

The book wasn't actually a straight biography of the "children" of Henry VIII. The book might be more properly titled the heirs of Henry VIII since Weir also deals quite a bit with Jane Grey, Henry's great niece through his sister Mary and good friend, Brandon Suffolk. Weir focuses on the time between Henry VIII's death and the end of his reign and the beginning of Elizabeth's. I of course knew all the basics: Edward becomes king, very Protestant, followed by Jane Grey for nine days who was really just the victim of her family's ambition, followed by "Bloody" Mary, the Catholic one, until finally Elizabeth takes over at her death. Alright, I knew quite a few more details than that, but I didn't know just how many intrigues and how much plotting was going during everyone's reigns. I also didn't realize that the man originally entrusted with guardianship of King Edward was sentenced to death. Weir deals a lot with what was going on at the courts, the relationships between the siblings and how one sibling's reign affected the others. Of course, it's hard to discuss much of a relationship since they all lived in different houses, were rather far removed in age, and had certain constraints imposed on them due to rank. Mary basically hated Elizabeth: she was popular (Mary was at one point until the burnings started), she was Protestant, and oh yeah, there was that thing with their mothers . . .

One of the things I enjoy about Weir is that for the most part she is sympathetic to all her subjects but also tries to give a balanced view of them. Do I necessarily like Edward? Not really. Actually, my issue with Edward, Jane and Mary was the same in all cases - they were all so fanatical about their religious beliefs. Obviously, the times were different back then, but I definitely don't get their complete and utter focus and devotion to religion - their subjects would have been a lot happier if their rulers had cared a little bit less about their spiritual well being and more about their physical. However, at least, Edward and Jane had an excuse: they were young; in ways, people can be less tolerant in their youth. Mary, on the other hand, was just kind of naive.

Another thing that would have driven me crazy at that time are the names. John Dudley, also known as Earl of Warwick who was then promoted to Duke of Northumberland. He was referred to by all three names at different times in the book. It's easy to lose track of who's who in history as they gain and lose titles and are then referred to by them. Especially when a title suddenly has a new family as its owner. I was also surprised to learn that Norfolk (the same one that was related to Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard - you figure after that many beheaded relatives, your life would be in danger) was still alive when Mary took the throne. And in fact rode out to battle at 80.

Overall, I'd say this book is definitely a good place to begin for anyone interested in a comprehensive history of the years between Henry and Elizabeth.

Book 75: The Children of Men

The Children of Men by P. D. James

I was on a bit of science fiction kick last time I made an order on Amazon. I had of course seen the movie Children of Men when it first came out in theaters but haven't seen it since. I enjoyed it, and keep meaning to buy it but every time I'm about to, I wonder if I need to add another dark and slightly depressing drama to my collection.

As a result, I didn't remember the specific details of the film, so I wasn't sure how loyal it had been to the novel. As the novel went on, however, it was much easier to see the large differences. For example, Julian and Theo's wife are two separate characters in the novel; Jasper is much more likable in the film, but then again, when you've got Michael Cain in the role, naturally, he's going to be a likable and important character. In the book, not quite as much. Many of the events from the book did occur in the film, but especially the action sequences were pushed up in the film's timeline and had many more added to them. Both works are very good in their own right, but their focus tended to be slightly different.

In the novel, Theodore's cousin is the Warden of England, or the dictator in charge of keeping a semblance of society even if it comes at a price for others. His policy is to increase the pleasure of the British and this means bringing in refugees as laborers. As a result, there is a much larger focus on power and people's relationships to it. The film also touched on this, but it also showed the racial disparity in the future that the society was based on. In fact, they made a point about the fact that the pregnant woman in the film is a refugee and not part of the great British race. Power is of course also a theme, but not in the same way as the novel. The novel can also discuss many aspects of the world without showing them. In film, it is often necessary to show something to really make it have an impact since simply discussing it or mentioning it in exposition won't have the same affect. As a result, the film had many locales that were addressed but not visited in the novel.

In both cases, the story is very much about Theodore's evolution and the impact that the events have on his life and outlook. The novel also focuses specifically on his relationship with his cousin, and allows him more time to reminisce about his past. However, the ending and the future as portrayed for Theodore are drastically different in the two medias.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Book 74: Second Foundation

Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov

I finally picked up Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and I really liked it. I enjoyed Foundation, but for some reason Foundation and Empire just didn't quite do it for me so I waited a few weeks to read the next in the series. I admit part of my problem with Foundation and Empire might have been when and where I was reading it: since I was in the field, I was reading bits and pieces and didn't have a chance to really get into it. I had to put it down too often so that probably was part of the reason I wasn't really that impressed.

Five years have elapsed since the end of Foundation and Empire, and the Mule continues his search for the Second Foundation which he believes is the only thing that can prevent his rise. He puts two men in charge of finding the Second Foundation; one of them is his agent and another has not been manipulated by the Mule because the manipulation has a tendency to repress a certain amount of initiative on the Converted. In this first section, the readers have their first introduction to people of the Second Foundation.

The second section takes place a few years later, and the main characters are Bayta's son and granddaughter, Arkady Darrell. Additionally, there are sections from the point of view of the Second Foundation which is still dealing with the fall out from the Mule. His actions have severly impacted the plan, and they must become more involved and also focus on the individual rather than the masses to fix the problems. The problem is that a large part of the population has become lethargic because they believe the Second Foundation will always bail them out, while another is resentful of what they see as their lack of free will. Their mere knowledge of the Second Foundation impacts the plan. The later group is searching for the Second Foundation in order to destroy it. Both sections of this novel, but particularly the second, are filled with intrigue and questioning about destiny. The characters are also constantly questioning who can be trusted as different schemes and plans are revealed and discovered. Rather than see the Second Foundation as heroic, the Foundation on Terminus sees them as something sinister.

I of course also enjoyed seeing a female in such a prominent role again; actually Arkady wasn't the only important female in the novel, and the other one uses her apparent dizziness as a disguise. While Arkady had her moments of annoyingness, it was because of her age (14), not her gender.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunday Music Video

Braveheart - Main Theme

I'm in Scotland for the weekend - it was either this or Bay City Rollers.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Istanbul: General Impressions

I flew to Istanbul for my last four day. I've been wanting to go ever since I got to Germany, but I just never could find someone to go with me, and while I have no problems traveling alone (Scotland's next - and I actually speak the language! :p ), this was one of those places I figured I'd be better off with a travel partner. I first expressed my desire to a friend in March '07, but while he was excited to find someone else that wanted to go, we never planned anything. When I did try to plan something last November, he didn't want to spend the money. Whatever.

I convinced one of the new LTs, Katie, to go with me. It was definitely an interesting experience but I feel like I kind of gave the city the short end of the stick since I went after going basically nonstop for a month. At some point, I was bound to crash, and it happened while there. We hit up the major sites, but we both kind of reached a point where we were more interested in sitting at a cafe and relaxing than sight seeing. As a result, I'd say we hit up a large part of the tourist area, and the major sites, but definitely didn't explore the more modern downtown area too much. We went up there one night but could not motivate ourselves to do that walk again a second time. However, the evening we were there, we thought it was very cool. We had dinner at a cafe/bar with different colored bean bags, and the whole area was just very metropolitan. We even got to see The Proposal the same weekend it came out in the States and it was very entertaining. Was it cliche and predictable? Absolutely, but most romantic comedies are and I liked that the woman was actually intelligent and there wasn't any gross out humor or fart jokes which seemed to be appearing in every movie for a while.

After flying Turkish Air, I wish I could always use that airline. The prize was relatively cheap, and they served food for a three hours flight. Not only that, but it was much better airplane food than normal. In fact, as part of the dinner on the return flight, they had a mini cheese tray which had the best mozzarella I'd had the entire trip.

I also was suprised by all the stray cats running around everywhere - being a cat person, I of course loved seeing cats everywhere, even kittens, but was less than happy about the fact that touching them probably would have given me at the very least fleas, and who knows what other diseases. Our first evening there, we ate at a cafe near the hotel, and one of the cats begging for food was cross-eyed. It was so funny.

Our hotel - well, that was an adventure of its own. I thought I knew where it was based on maps and the address but apparently I was looking at the main road, and the other two words on the address referred to the actual road that was kind of off the road I thought we needed. After asking endless people for directions and just ending up walking in larger and larger circles, we took a cab. And then the cab driver couldn't find it. Part of the problem with that might be is that when I showed him the paper with the address name, I think he started looking for the "Hotel Summary" rather than the actual hotel name which was underneath and which I clearly pointed at. And then we got there, and it turned out we were in a bedroom in an apartment suite, and had to share the bathroom with one other room (two, if they'd both been occupied).

One of the reasons I was excited to be going somewhere with someone is that I'd hoped I'd finally be able to go out for some drinks at night. Unfortunately between the aforementioned tiredness and culture shock, it just didn't happen. Would I have been afraid to go out in Istanbul? Absolutely not; however, the people there were very friendly. In some ways, a little more friendly than I'm used to. I have no problem pulling out a map and trying to orient myself on it. So what if I look like a tourist. Every time I did that in Istanbul, though, somebody came up and started giving me directions. And I'm not always that good at following directions. However, as a result, I quickly stopped pulling out the map. I kind of wanted to go out for a few drinks but I didn't necessarily want to deal with people approaching me.

I'm also used to seeing Starbucks everywhere when I travel in larger cities around the world. I saw one or two of those in Istanbul but I saw a lot more Gloria Jean's, which surprised me. We used to have one in the mall back home but it closed down, and is now a pet shop. I guess they found a market somewhere. The one in the airport even had waiters.

Given how long my post on Rome got, I figured I'd break this one up a little bit more. I'll discuss some of the actual sites and museums in a few other posts.