Well, from here on in, I’m going to pretend that the other lady in my hostel room is slightly retarded.  I think it’s the only way that it’ll make her bearable: and to be fair, it might be slightly true.  I literally just told her that I hate that I have to have the same conversation every day: where have I been, where am I going, what do I do?  She then proceeded to ask me those questions and give me life advice.  Haha yes, I’m easily irritated: but I’m also not at all interested in divulging my life story to the average of 30 new people I meet each day.  I’ll have to start pretending I don’t speak English again..

Anyway, now that that particular bit of rage is out!  I finally left Plakias today, after being there for over a week.  My foot has returned to its regular size, and my sunburn is thoroughly renewed.  The last few days have been verrrry chilled, and mainly focused around dinner time.  Each evening, I went out with the people from the hostel for an epic feast: I swear, the generosity of the Greeks is unparalleled.  For ten euro, you’ll eat five courses, and they’ll just keep bringing more!  Tonight for example, I met my friend Louise and we went out for dinner in Iraklion, at a restaurant suggested to me by two new German friends (a mathematician and a chemical engineer—both thoroughly hilarious).  (And in an incidentally hilarious moment and a second set of brackets, while at dinner with said Germans and a whole lot more last night, I was talking to someone and commenting how many Germans there are here on Crete.  She said that yes, it’s because the Germans took it over during WW2, and then in the 60s the German hippies took it over.  I said “ah, the less terrifying form of German takeover!”—and then realised that every German at the table was looking at me.  “Uh…. In the least offensive way of course..!”)

Louise and I turned up at this place and were quickly the only guests (we must have smelled appalling?!).  We ordered a ridiculous amount of food, including tzatziki with our bread to start, a Greek salad for Louise, and both grilled vegetables and an omelette for me, as I hadn’t yet eaten today.  The omelette arrived and looked amazing, but I took a bite and swore it tasted like fish.  Louise had a go and found the same, so we called the waiter over and asked if there was fish in it.  He said that no, there’s no fish served there.  Louise then went, “well, she’s vegetarian, you see” as if it were some sort of disease, and the waiter refused to hear our protests as he went off to get a fresh omelette.  This is after he’d already brought as a second round of bread for free, and a complementary bottle of raki.

The waiter then returned with a new omelette and a new bottle of raki, so that it would be cold.  It truly was a mountain of food in front of us!  We finally made it through as much as we possibly could.  And then the guy brought a plate of fruit.  And then “it is like sex” (he said) some warm, gooey chocolate pudding.  All free of charge, of course!  Oh my goodness.  In the end, the bill was only ~AU$30 in total.  Freaking ridiculous.  I feel like every time I go to a restaurant, I cost them money!  And the food is so good!!  And there are so many vegetarian options (after the vegetarian desert that was Russia)!!  Amazing.

Tomorrow I’m off to see the Palace of Knossos—very touristy, but I can’t exactly be on Crete and not go to see it—then at 2am tomorrow night I’m flying to Istanbul for the conference.  It should be… interesting.  The facebook group feed has been full of a mix of intelligent people introducing themselves and many more people who don’t seem to know how to use google.  “What is the best sustainable way to get from the airport?”  (Walking?)  “Should I bring euros or Turkish lira?”  (Euros aren’t the currency of Turkey)  “Should I bring my laptop to Turkey?”  (It depends on whether you want to use your laptop, I’d say).  We’ll see.  Either way, I’m sure it’ll look good on the CV.

Oh!  And before I forget!  I am absolutely drowning in Russians!  One of the most incongruous things I saw today was a sign saying шубы, that is, fur coats.  I couldn’t help but wonder if there are a lot of Russians that come to Greece to buy fur coats (!!).  A lot of the signs at this end of the island are in Greek and Russian, and you certainly hear a lot of Russian, walking around.  Is this normal?!  Have Russians been around me my whole life and I’ve just never noticed before?!?

In other news, I’ve finally started learning Spanish.  It is muy bueno )


My hostel in Iraklion/Heraklion, Crete: Manos Studios

Source: http://www.candaceroserardon.com/2012/03/travel-disasters-thefts/

The probable incidence of larceny

I’ve just arrived back in Istanbul, in advance of the conference tomorrow.  And oh my goodness has it been an adventure!

My flight from Iraklio, Crete, was at 02:40 this morning.  I barely made it to the airport actually: in the process of hailing the last bus to the airport, I forgot how to walk, and ended up throwing myself down on the ground instead.  Painfully, with a lot of swearing, and out of sight of the bus.  I was frantic that I’d miss the thing, so jumped up and launched myself Quasimodo-style toward the bus.  Meanwhile, a guy who’d seen me eat pavement looked like he wanted to call an ambulance for me, so I made a speedy exit.  Well, as speedily as someone who’s walking like a particularly damaged zombie can exit, anyway.

I made it to the airport, and upon arriving overhead a conversation between a couple nearby.  They’d missed their flight, because they didn’t realise that after midnight, it’s a new day.  Thus they’d turned up a day late, thinking that 01:40 in the morning was clearly still part of Wednesday night, and 01:40 on Wednesday morning is part of Tuesday night.  Some real winners for the gene pool, there.

After waiting a few hours (during which I practised Spanish with myself and didn’t look even moderately crazy), I checked in my bags and went to passport control.  Where I thought it would be a great idea to ask whether my passport was flagged after I’d overstayed my Russian visa.  Because ‘I overstayed my visa’ is precisely what immigration officials want to hear!

It took me no less than five buckets to pass all of my stuff through the scanner, then I mooched into the lounge, looking forward to an hour’s nap.  And that absolutely would have happened, were there not a group of four Russians choreographing a dance to Beat It! by Michael Jackson.  I’m talking blaring repetition of the song, the four standing in formation and pulling out some very very cheesy moves.  I have no idea why 2am was a good time to do this.  Russians are always very considerate of those around them!  (Sarcasm?  Nooooo).

I had a little nap on the short flight, got to Istanbul, and walked to the metro entrance.  But it was still only 04:15, and the metro wasn’t actually open yet.  So I made a remarkably comfy bed from my suitcase and bag, and slept for an hour or so on the floor outside the station: I’m taking this ‘homeless traveller’ thing a little too seriously, I think!

Twenty minutes on the train, an hour on the tram (where a recorded voice-over warned of the inevitable larceny that takes place at all tram stops), and finally to the bus stop.  I needed to catch a bus to Taksim Square (where the riots are), in order to walk from there.  Then I couldn’t figure out how to buy a bus ticket, and the driver was not a very happy nor helpful man, so I walked to the taxi rank instead.  I asked how much it would cost to my hostel (I gave the guy the name, and showed him a map of the area around it), and he said 10 lira (~AU$5).  Great!  So I jumped on in.

We then spent the next loooooooooooong time (I’d say nearly an hour, but I’m pretty sleep deprived) driving around looking for the place.  We drove past Taksim, which is really quite a mess: holes in the road, trash everywhere, and hastily-erected home-made road-blocks.  Plus riot police vans.  The protesters themselves seemed very chilled however.

Anyway, every block or so, the driver would pull over and ask a taxi driver for directions.  Meanwhile, he was starting to insult and yell at me in Turkish—it’s not really my problem if he doesn’t know where he’s going despite directions and a map, though!

Finally, finally, we made it to the hostel.  I gave him the 10 lira and he said “no,” and now demanded 25 for his trouble.  Note: ‘his’ trouble.  I said no, I wasn’t going to pay that.  He then got absolutely furious and started waving his arms around and yelling in Turkish.  Unsurprisingly, I stuck to my guns and said that no, I would pay what we agreed.  (You can tell how much of a budget I’m on… also, after Russia, I’m not exactly going to take that nonsense!)  He then moved the car into a driveway and stopped the engine.  I’d unfortunately broken my own rule—always put baggage in the car, not in the boot, so I can grab and run if there’s any issues.  As it was, after a minute or so of us both just sitting there, I got my kindle out and started to read my book.  I’m quite difficult to extort.

After maybe five minutes, the taxi driver started the car again, and started driving aimlessly around the city: I don’t really know what he was trying to achieve!  He was ranting and raving and driving in circles (thank goodness for my insane memory—I’d already memorised the streets around the hostel on our first go around, so I knew I could find my way back if he dropped me somewhere random).  After maybe another ten minutes, I told him that I now considered myself kidnapped, and was calling the police.  And I did.  While I was on hold waiting for an English or Russian speaker, I asked him for his registration number, as it wasn’t displayed inside the cab.

Needless to say, when I then offered to pay him 15, he meekly accepted and drove me back to the hostel, and I disconnected the call with the police.

What has Russia done to me?!?!  (Also: never, ever, mess with a tired Laura).


An excited Russian man came running over to me at the conference before.  “Лаура!” he said, “you’re from St Petersburg!”

“Well, not exactly,” I replied.  I don’t know exactly how he thought the name ‘Laura’ could be Russian, but apparently he was trying to find out if there was anyone else from Ze Motherland at the conference, and someone pointed me out.  I’m curious what brings him here actually—Russia seems to be entirely lacking in any kind of environmental movement.  I’ll have to ask him tomorrow.

The conference so far has been a bit blah, but I’m quite interested to hear Al Gore’s presentation tomorrow.  It’s rather disconcerting actually—the presenters and staff who’ve mentioned him so far have spoken of him with a tone of reverence, as though he were a god or something.  They continually laugh deprecatingly, saying that “well, I’m not Al Gore!”  I’m not sure they realise he’s just a dude, ex-US Vice President or no.

Turkey has continued to be rollercoaster-like.  After yesterday’s post, I went for a walk to buy some tops for the conference.  The area around Taksim is infinitely more likeable than that around Sultanhmet, where I stayed last year.  There people were constantly creeping on me, but here it’s much more European.  It’s actually quite cool.

After making my purchases (in the end, at a Russian chain store… of course..!), I decided to go and check out Taksim Square, site of the protests in Istanbul.  It was very interesting.  Most had gas masks of various calibre, which is totally reasonable as they’ve been gassed by the police several times by now.  There was a whole range of people, from seemingly all backgrounds and of all ages.  There were quite a few young people, but also some from older generations.  Mixed in were the normal homeless people.

The vibe was quite difficult to describe: it felt partly like a party, but with violent undertones.  I don’t think I’ve ever fully understood the word ‘thrilling’ before this.  Walking through the park, there were people everywhere: some chanting, some singing, some chilling in their tents, and others sitting around eating with friends.  As it got later, there were more and more grim-looking people filing in, and fewer people just investigating.  Camera crews were everywhere, of course.


People protest in the square by two Turkish flags and a huge image of the prime minister:

After visiting the square, I returned to the hostel for an early-ish night.  All was fine and well until 1:24am, when the lady who works at the hostel came to wake me up and tell me I needed to move rooms.  You can imagine how delightfully happy I was.  I had no choice, so got out of bed to start packing my stuff.  A minute or so later, as I was getting changed (chances of my walking around the hostel in my pjs are approximately zero), the cleaning lady walked in, leaving the door open for the world to see.  She then proceeded to sit down and watch me pack, which was a dangerous place to be.  When I left the room, she didn’t actually even change the bedding, despite the fact I’d slept in it all day—just left it for the guys who were moving in.

The hostel lady cornered a guy who was walking up the stairs to help with my luggage, and he said that was fine, but man did he bitch and moan.  My bag’s only just over 20kg, but you would have thought it weighed three times that.  As he was resting every few steps and complaining bitterly, I couldn’t help but think, ‘well, you’re certainly not Russian!’.

A few hours later I got back to sleep, then reluctantly woke to my alarm a couple of hours later again.  I’d decided to go and get my hair done before registration for the conference opened, as I’ve been feeling completely blah lately: I figured that maybe looking like ‘Australian’ Laura would help me start feeling like her again.  And that’s what credit cards are for, right..?  (In other news, I feel like I’ve figured out how people get into debt cycles: I’ve had so little money for so long now, that it’s become like an abstract concept.  I’m putting everything on credit and will deal with it later…. oh, healthy financial situation.)

Anyway, I got down to reception, at which point the lady told me in a rather aggressive manner that I was going to have to move rooms again.  “Are you fucking serious?!” I replied.  (You may be sensing a morning theme with me—don’t ever talk to me before at least 10am).  I told her I’d return to move my stuff after I’d had my hair done.

It seems that having my hair done is something I do when in Turkey, as I had it dyed last time too.  Happily, this time I didn’t end up as white-blonde, and he did a great job cutting it, too.  Who needs language, right?  Getting your hair cut in a country where you don’t speak the language is invariably interesting.

Time to do some study before bed!


My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel

A quick update from Istanbul

I’m not sure how much news is making it out, so figured I’d post my facebook/vk/twitter updates.   I was exposed to a little tear gas last night but am fine—I was lucky enough to make it back to my hostel before it all went crazy.  Here are a couple of photos I took from the hostel window:

A group of men chanting outside
A group of men chanting outside
The gas that chased them away. Quite a bit of tear gas was shot on the street outside at different times. It was fine to breathe in the room, but because the bathroom has a vent it was quite difficult at times.

It was going on for most of the night.

07.40 I can’t hear any protests or gas bombs being set off near my hostel now, but apparently violence continues and will do so throughout the day. The PM’s having his own rally of supporters today, which is likely to result in continuing protests. Thousands of police descended on the peaceful protesters (including very young children and the elderly) with gas and water cannons- and from our window we also saw them holding stones. Several hotels where people were avoiding the violence – eg the Hilton, next to my conference venue – have been stormed. One hotel, which had been converted into an infirmary (the Didan) was tear-gassed inside and doctors were arrested.
Transport has once more ground to a halt, while tv signals are rumoured to have been jammed like the internet, and journalists have not been permitted into the area. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has announced that anyone entering the area of the riots will be considered and treated as a terrorist. Further, Turkish officials have commented on how perfectly this situation has been handled.
For those who don’t know what these protests are about, it started here in Istanbul after a park was to be demolished, but has since turned into a protest against the government and moreover a demand for civil and social rights.
I’m not sure if we can leave our hostel or go to the conference at this point, but will update when I can! 

‘Governor Mutlu is holding a press meeting right now: “We have announced the intervention. Only some marginal groups were inside the park. We’re glad that the intervention was exceptionally proper.”‘
7 hours ago, from Occupy Gezi facebook page.

08.00 The conference organisers have said to go to the conference, so we’re all off.  More protests are expected to take off at around 4pm.

PS I was forced to join twitter for the conference: @explauramay


My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel

The romantic life

Last night, I was at dinner with the two girls I’ve been sharing a room with for the past week in Istanbul, when one of them suddenly said, “Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about love.”  The other two of us waited to see where the sentence was going, but apparently that was it.  The other girl said that Istanbul is a very romantic city, that there’s something in the air here, and I’m inclined to agree.

Last time I was in Istanbul (March 2012), I absolutely hated it.  The city itself doesn’t call to me, the food’s bad, and the constant hassling from men was intolerable.  This time though, with friends, it’s much less offensive.  Granted, I’m spending 90% of the time in our hostel/hotel room, studying and working on projects (much-needed time!), but even our sojourns into the outside world have been quite nice.  It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Turkish men are generally very good-looking.

After the hecticness that was last Saturday night, I and the girls from my hostel room at that time turned up fairly late to the conference.  We weren’t sure if it was going ahead for the final day (and the organisers were more than lax in communicating with us), and plus, we had to navigate around the tear-gas which surrounded the conference centre.  At one point, I heard tear gas fired at least sixteen times in the same place, and you can see in this photo I took on my phone the remnants of the smoke:


I wasn’t paying much attention to the conference that morning, and barely anyone turned up.  Some had been out all night in strangers’ houses, having been let in to escape the omnipresent tear gas; the rest of us were too excited by what was happening around us.  Others  were still trapped in different parts of the city.  Anyway, I headed to the social media centre to let people know I was alive, and saw a message from one of the girls in my room that they were going to leave the conference early and move from Taksim to the city, as the centre’s security guards had told them that they were worried about the conference centre being stormed and gassed by the police.  I decided to join them, and so before midday we were back in our hostel in Taksim (where I became friends with the girl who worked there, in the end!), packing our things to head to the city.  I’ve been here since, and will remain a few more days before returning to Athens, where the food is better!

At first in our room there were four of us—myself, a Colombian girl, an Argentinian and a Greek.  I’m surrounded by warm country people again!  The Colombian left after the first two days, and it’s just been the three of us since.  They’ve been a good influence on me already, even in such a short time—they’re both called Marina, but I’ve renamed one of them Sensei since she’s told me that every time I say something angry thanks to ‘Russian Syndrome’, I have to say something nice afterward.  Other Marina just now threatened me to make sure I said nice things in this blog post haha!

Before I forget to mention it, the conference itself was very mixed.  I made some good contacts and got a piece of paper to bolster my environmental accreditations, but it was all a bit blah.  The first day wasn’t very useful for those of us who’ve given presentations or delivered training before.   The second day started well, with Al Gore giving his presentation, but to be honest the presentation is very strong on proving climate change and almost entirely lacking in solutions (and completely lacking in ‘next steps’, or things that the individual consumer or business can do to minimise their impact).  Also, at the end of the day he became true to his ‘Al God’ persona, and went full evangelical climate minister: there were fake tears, there was whispering followed by shouting—he completely lost me, and a lot of the rest of the audience.  The third day, as I’ve said, most people were absent.  The organisers, meanwhile, were the only people with the complete list of attendees: and not only did they not acknowledge the fact that our building was surrounded by riot police and tear gas, but they didn’t even check that people were okay.  We didn’t even know if everyone was safe.

As I said, I’ve been mainly staying in the hostel/hotel room (it’s kind of a hostel, next to kind of a hotel, and we’ve moved rooms three times so it’s all a little muddled!), catching up on studies and work.  I’ve been using edX, the free online university program recently launched by Harvard/Berkeley/MIT etc, to do a course on ‘Global Human Health and Climate Change’, and it’s been absolutely fantastic.  I can’t recommend the programme enough—and more courses are being added every semester.

I’ve also finally paid my uni fees to London, given that the Australian dollar is absolutely tanking.  It’s lost ten cents on the green-back in the last few weeks, and due to lose another twenty by November.  Needless to say, my budget is screwed!  So that’s all official, and I’m committed.  Creeeeepy.  My eventual probably-plan is to upgrade the graduate diploma in geography & environment into a Masters of Public Policy (Climate Change).  Meanwhile, my dear friend Reda is trying to convince me to apply for that Masters at Cambridge, of all places!  I’m not so sure..!

I have also, finally, started writing.  I promised my Nan years ago that I’d write a book, and so I’ve started in on that.  I’m determined to finish it for her, and I have enough spare time in the next few months to make some serious headway.  I’ve also been teaching English via Skype to a guy in Moscow, at the request of my friend Alex.  He recently opened a language school in St Petersburg, and asked me to do it as a favour.  It’s a lot of work for little money, but it’s only for the four weeks until I go to Finland, and it’s money I’d not have had otherwise.  More to the point, he’s a decent guy, and it would be good if schools like his would succeed, while those run by much less nice people would fail.  Because apparently I’m vindictive like that!

On a lighter note, coming home from dinner last night, we stopped at a pudding shop to pick up some dessert.  The three of us were crowded around a menu, with one of the others reading out the items.  She got to profiteroles, read out ‘cream-filled balls’, looked at me, and started giggling.  The other Marina joined in, while I tried to control myself for the conservative crowd around us.  But then she just kept saying ‘cream-filled balls’, and finally simply ballsballsballsballsballs, and I gave in.  The three of us were standing there laughing uncontrollably for probably three minutes, while a Turkish waiter looked on like we were crazy people.  We finally stopped, and he looked at me and said, “yes, pistachios are funny, aren’t they!?”.  What could I do but nod?

Anyway, it’s dinner-time here in Turkey, so we’re off on the quest to find some cheap vegetarian food once more.  Пока пока :))

PS—the ‘featured image’ today is the view from where I’m writing 🙂


My hostel, Taksim Istanbul: Green House Hostel.  The hostel in Sultanahmet, Istanbul: Yakamoz Guesthouse.