The Geriatric Attractor

In EuroEast 2011 on 11/07/2011 at 23:43

I’m sure all of you had lots of fun reading Laura’s last post. Did anyone else find it slightly one sided? Maybe? A little? Well, even if you didn’t, this is a two-person blog. So here you are, my rebuttal in defense to her last post.

I think it’s unfair that Laura glossed over her alluring powers in the last post. Laura gets LOTS of male attention. The only difference is that they all tend to be, well, let’s just say over the age of 60. Am I jealous? Maybe slightly. Because, really, I think it’d be quite nice to have this seductive power over men on that end of the age spectrum.

The point is that the old men are the ones who know the shops and products best and are in charge of giving the discounts. And this has proven to pay off during our travels. Not only do they offer us loads of free hot tea and coffee like their younger shop-guy counterparts, but the more venerated shop owners also give us food: an added bonus for us adventurous travelers who anxiously await to try local treats (as long as it doesn’t involve caviar and pancakes.)

So in my rebuttal post, I will gladly describe the winning men who fell at Laura’s feet (and thankfully didn’t break any hips):

1. Mr. Hot and Spicy

On one of our afternoons in Turkey, we were recommended a place for lunch that not only had an excellent view of the Blue Mosque, but had a waiter who thought Laura was quite the spicy lover. Hot, spicy food lover that is.

We were sitting on the terrace of the restaurant enjoying ourselves and the view when we asked the waiter to take some photos of us in front of the Blue Mosque. He did, and then we sat down to place our orders which (of course) consisted of kebabs, water, and Coke. Our usual lunchtime beer had to take a leave of absence, as we were in mosque territory. As we ordered, we noticed some of the items on the menu had SPICY written by them. So we asked the waiter for a recommendation.

The waiter asked us if we liked spicy food. I said my immediate NO and Laura answered with a slightly hesitant well, yeah. Haha what a fool she was!

The waiter pointed out some food, we ordered, and continued our lunch. But not two minutes later the waiter came back with a plate of tiny, tiny hot peppers. Just for Laura!

Laura gave me the oh no face that I have come to both find hilarious and slightly worrisome, and waited for the waiter to go back downstairs. She poked at the peppers a little, shrugged, and popped the black one into her mouth.

She blinked. Made a face, and immediately started pouring sweat while gesturing wildly around for more water. Ok well maybe that’s a slight exaggeration.  But she was unhappy and the look on her face was scaring me! She might be a master of clever deception, but even I noticed when she starated to spoon every bit of yoghurt on the table into her mouth inbetween large bites of bread while downing an entire litre of water.

But oh, my friend is a crafty one. She made sure the waiter wasn’t looking and in a quick attempt to escape any more hot-death-in-the-mouth-ness, she popped the ends off of the rest of the peppers and hid the them in a handy napkin to fool the waiter into thinking she had eaten them.

The waiter came by and, delighted that she had finished the peppers so quickly disappeared once more… only to return with more peppers. He then insisted that he take a picture of her eating one.

My favorite part of this photo is the terror in her eyes

I would also like to point out that this old man barely even registered my existence as I gave my order, let alone acknowledged anything else I said later on.  I’m not sure he even heard me except that he knew I was getting the same food as precious, pepper-popping Laura.

Maybe we should have learned our lesson here. Don’t finish all the food they bring… They will only bring you more. (See: The Candy Man)

2. Shoe Man

We will now move on to Bosnia. Another location where Laura won the (possibly artificial) hearts of adorable, older men.

Exhibit A

We were walking down the market streets of Sarajevo when we spotted these awesome genie shoes that would go perfectly with our awesome genie pants in one of the store windows. We walked in, pointed to the styles we liked, and began to try them on.

The man pulled out a chair for Laura to use and then pointed at some dilapidated old stool in the back for me to get. He then routinely asked our names and the basic questions. But this time there were slight variations in the basic questions. You see, he asked every question to Laura. In fact, it wasn’t until later that he looked over to me and possibly thought, oops, is she with beautiful Laura? Maybe I should also ask her name?

After I had introduced myself for the third time, I began to catch onto the situation. And, much in the same way that Laura had forced me to pose with many of  the shop guys in Istanbul, I took my camera out to record the parade of old men who threw themselves at her feet. All the time I was laughing tremendously. We have such a healthy friendship.

So we bought our genie shoes (and they are awesome! Siblings, you can’t wait for your amazing sisters to come home and wow you with terrible fashion from around the world!). After that, we were off to meet with a couple of girls from California who we had met on the bus ride in, but Laura promised the Shoe Man that we would be back for tea, after he offered it to us about twenty times.

True to our word, we went back that evening. However, not only did we have tea: the old man slowly walked across the street and bought us special bread (that was actually very good). We ate some, tried to make some conversation, laughed at the fact we totally couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying, and I watched in awe as the old man went back into the other room to continue bringing Laura books, DVDs, CDs, and maps all about his country.

I mean, I get a scarf draped around me a couple of times (and I didn’t even get to keep the scarf!), and she gets an entire multimedia collection. Really?

3. The Tin Man

The Tin Man was another old man in Sarajevo who owned a shop full of the beautiful antique (and sometimes modern) tin and copper coffee sets. We had been looking for a little souvenir to take home from Sarajevo, but hadn’t been finding much luck. Everything was the same junk we had seen over and over from city to city. But in Sarajevo, the tin coffee pots really stood out. So we wandered into one of the larger stores on the corner of the main square to browse the wares.

Immediately Laura pointed something out and the shop owner walked to her, asked ONLY her name, and began showing her all of the things that he and his late father had made. He handed her many of his most valuable items while walking her around his store while he showed her the pictures on the wall (of various celebrities visiting) and told her the stories of how his shop began. All while I, on the other hand, was abandoned in a dusty corner trying to pick out something for myself when really at this point I should have shoved a dozen things in my bag and made a run for it.

After some more browsing, the man told Laura she could have the special student discount when she ended up purchasing the item. But when I went to pay for my item–something very different and NOT an antique– it was somehow double the price of Laura’s. I looked between the tin man and my friend, hoping for some kind money-saving gesture. Yet, the merciless shop owner preferred that I remain nameless and so I handed over the money.

As we walked out he called after to Laura inviting her to come back for tea later, so he could show her more things in the shop. Despite the fact that I was the one who had purchased something (that was apparently) twice as expensive, his invitation was only addressed to Laura.

I mean, it’s a wonder that I even remember my name at this point.

4. Train Station Man

Laura has this thing that she does whenever we go to buy tickets. I go up to the window and ask the important questions while she stands behind me and gives a goofy wave and quick hello (complete with goofy stupid smile) to hopefully win over the attendant. It’s actually been quite effective in preventing jerky behavior at the ticket counters.

I call her a dork and she replies, no Betsy, it’s adorkable. Yes. I’ve spent six weeks with this. Send help soon.

Most of the time, her dorky behavior just gets us a nicer greeting and quick processing. But whenever an old man is working behind the counter, a spark ignites. They go above and beyond the call of ticket-processing duty. They look up our time tables, tell us where to sit and who to talk to, warn us about where to get off at which station… we’ve even had some escort us right to our platform.

Even when they don’t leave their ticket booths, they always remember us. And when we come back later in the day, crushed underneath our huge bags, they still have a smile and a wave for Laura. Once, after we almost missed our train due to the Candy Man’s stupid Candy Antics, the ticket man even waved and yelled “Go go go go go go!!!” as we sprinted (as best we could) toward our train. What a champ.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that we’re two girls traveling alone in Eastern Europe. But I choose to believe it’s more to do with Laura, and her mystic control over the hearts of old men.

The take aways from traveling with a friend who brings in the old men:

1. While Laura is openly told that she will get the ‘student’ discount, I like to pretend that I am included in that offer as well. Or that I look too sophisticated to be a student.
2. Free food!
3. Invites back for more hot tea instead of sketchy dinner dates and disco clubs
4. The fact that I don’t have to pause like an idiot to remember that my name is really Elizabeth, a name most Eastern Europeans understand much easier. Instead of looking stupid, I don’t even get asked what my name is. Much simpler, really.
5. We are the perfect traveling companions. We win over everyone, young and old, and can prove the truth in our travel saying that we make friends wherever we go.

Being that Laura and I are already planning our future trips together, including those when we are ninety-year-old widows, you might wonder how our attraction levels will change with time. Will our roles reverse? Maybe we will eventually both attract men within our own age group! Gasp! Or even worse, we might hit that horrible point in old age woman-ness that stops us from captivating anyone.

I know that last option will never be true though. Who wouldn’t love two old women wearing genie pants, genie shoes, bosnian tunics, and spirit hoods? No one, in fact. Seriously, take a minute to imagine it. Even if we don’t garner adorable emotions from onlookers, at least we’ll have their sympathy as they conclude we’ve gone senile.

Haha maybe Laura's already senile

Keep bringing on the discounts!


Helen of Friggin Indiana

In EuroEast 2011 on 06/07/2011 at 15:40

Istanbul, Turkey. An amazing city. Full of life, fun, adventure, and new experiences. By the time Betsy and I reached our (thus far) favorite city, we had already cemented our friendship. Which was fortunate, because otherwise I might have murdered her with the underside of my shoe.


Ha. No. Everything is fine, really. It’s just that in Turkey, Betsy had this incredible ability to make every single guy fawn over her. It was actually magical. At first I wrote it off as a part of the culture– in Turkey many of the shop workers and restaurant guys will stand outside their stores and heckle the tourists in. This will often devolve into bad pick up lines like “don’t you want to sit down? Aren’t you tired after running through my dreams all night?” and the ilk. But after a while, I began to notice a pattern. Or, more simply, I began to notice that I was being completely ignored in favor of Betsy.

Not to break out the world’s tiniest violin here. I wasn’t actually mad. Or insulted. I didn’t even take it as a personal criticism. Because in fact, I myself had a tremendous ability to attract the attentions of waitstaff and shop workers too. The only catch was that unlike Betsy, the people who were most willing to dote on me were around the age of 60. If I was lucky– often times they were older.

Essentially, it was like walking around with Helen of Troy as Helen’s not-to-shabby friend. I became more and more amused as Betsy tried to deny and deny and deny. And once I discovered what was going on, the ‘trends’ if you will, I began to capture photo documentation. As proof. Proof which I will now detail in the form of amusing stories:

1) The Scarf Guy
Betsy and I went to the Central Bazaar in Istanbul. A highly recommended tourist destination, shops have been there since before America was even conceived of by our founding fathers. Since before our founding fathers were mere twinkles in the founding fathers father’s eyes. Since I was missing my younger sister Emily’s birthday, she had requested I get her something from the Bazaar. I had already gotten her a gift (WHICH I AM NOT TELLING YOU HAHA EMILY HAHA), but it wasn’t from the Bazaar and I don’t go back on my promises. So I decided a nice additional gift would be a scarf.

We browsed by several shops, ignoring the calls of the increasingly annoying shopkeepers, and eventually decided on a nice store with a younger worker who hadn’t, in fact, tried to get us into his store. Eat that reverse logic, Turkey. We walked into the store and I told him, “Hello! I am looking for some scarves.” To which he replied, “Hello! Let me show you how to wrap this scarf around you, beautiful friend of annoying person who is speaking to me.”

Ok. Maybe I’m exaggerating. Regardless, despite my utter willingness to actually purchase several scarves from the man, he barely said two words to me. Betsy wasn’t interested in buying a scarf. And yet that didn’t stop him from draping all of his most expensive items around her, showing her various knots and ways to hang the fabric around her. Obviously this guy’s main focus wasn’t on the sale.

After putting the scarf on, Betsy became 200% more regionally hotter.

I handled all the items, I made a mess of his store. I even put a scarf into my bag to see if I could get any kind of reaction out of this guy. But no, he was too busy showing Betsy how to drape the wedding scarf around her head in the appropriate fashion. At some point in his antics he said to Betsy: “You are so beautiful!” and then he looked at me, searching for some kind of consolatory adjective before coming up with: “And you are smart.”

No, really. He said that. It’s just what every girl dreams of hearing.

2) Genie Pants Guy
Betsy and I decided that we needed to make a ridiculous purchase. We had, in our wanderings, seen various stores selling what we termed to be Genie pants. You know, the pants that puff out around the ankles. Cheaply made and cheaply sold, we really wanted a pair so we could return home and embarrass all our friends and siblings.

So we stopped in one of the shops and started browsing the various styles. There were the ugly ones, the uglier ones, and the ugliest ones. Naturally I gravitated towards the most hideous of them all, because why only go half way? We each selected several styles and patterns of pants and asked the shop guy if we could try them on.

“Sure!” He said, but the changing room was occupied. So we prepared to wait to try on our excellent new pants before he looked at Betsy and said “Oh! You should try these on” and handed her a new pair of pants. He then said that she could use the upstairs room (a storage room) to try on her pants and that “I guess your friend can go too.”

So we went upstairs, tried on the different pants, and went down to look in the mirrors in the main shop. We went down and immediately he began to compliment and praise. Well, compliment and praise Betsy at least. He then proceeded to bring out more and more items of clothing to dress us up with. Hats, belly dancer’s jingle scarves, and jackets. I took out my camera and we took some silly pictures. And then the shop guy himself took out a robe and donned it.

“Here! Take our picture [mere plebeian]!” (emphasis added by author) He told me, posing with Betsy. So I did. So I could have proof that this Betsy + Shop Guys thing was, in fact, a thing.

Pictured: PROOF

It was then that I realized I should really start documenting all of these guys with my camera. Just so I can look back and laugh. Well, no. Really it was just to make Betsy pose in as many ridiculous situations as possible. Yes, I know. I’m a great friend.

3) The Ceramic Guy
Later in the Bazaar, we stopped into a different store to look at the colorful ceramics and figures available for purchase. The shop guy was nice, a little older but still in his 30s. He showed us some plates and bowls, and eventually we decided on a pair of whirling dervish figurienes. Then we came to the haggling.

I went through the usual phrases. I’m a student, we don’t have a lot of money, I don’t have that much local currency on me (a tactic made much less powerful by the numerous ATMs in the Bazaar), shouldn’t we get a discount for buying two figures instead of one, yada yada yada. And although he was looking at Betsy while I made all of my pleas, he actually DID interact with me, so that was nice.

Then he smiled and said (jokingly), “How many goats for her?” pointing at Betsy.

I immediately said, “She is my favorite daughter. 12 goats and your whole shop.”

He agreed. Betsy was less than amused.

We laughed, talked a little more, and eventually got the price down to something much more agreeable. He then agreed to a much lower price, so long as he could get a kiss from Betsy. She laughed. I laughed. He didn’t. Awkward silence ensued.

We paid the higher price and left briskly.

3) Ice Cream Ring Guy
Another day, we stopped for Ice Cream. It was a street-side café and we were waited upon by a young waiter. He went through the usual introductions, the where-are-you-from, where-in –America, oh-that’s-very-nice, how-do-you-like-Istanbul pleasantries. His English was understandable, but it was clear he was using us as some practice. After we ordered, he saw that Betsy was wearing a nice turquoise ring (which we had actually picked up in Bucharest). He pointed at it and she took it off her finger to show him. He took it, put it on his finger, and jokingly flashed it about.

It was all quite amusing, really, until he couldn’t get it off again. He tried to tug it off and found it completely jammed on his much larger digit. He looked at us, embarrassed, and did the international “Oh crap, one second” gesture. Something akin to big smiles and lots of frantic waving.

We laughed, he went back to soap his hands up and get the ring off, and Betsy went to the restroom. While she was gone, he came back and put the now removed ring on the table. I smiled at him in a “no worries” kind of way and he brought our ice cream out.

Betsy was still occupied waiting in the longest restroom perhaps ever, and I sat awkwardly at the table, snapping pictures of this and that. I asked the waiter to take a picture of me at the table with my ice cream. He did. He gave me my camera and then went away and came back with a single heart-shaped cookie. I thought it was for me. I was mistaken. He put it into Betsy’s awaiting ice cream, smiled at me, and walked away.

Well thanks, Mr. Ice Cream Man. I feel really special.

Betsy came back (I was about to send a search party for her) and sat down. We laughed about the ring and the heart-cookie and got about our delicious consumption of the ice cream. That’s when the waiter came back and offered to take a picture of the two of us.

Great! I thought. We don’t have that many pictures of the two of us! Fantastic! He snapped a couple of pictures, started playing with the zoom on my camera, snapped a couple more, and handed us the camera. We thanked him, paid, and left.

It wasn’t until later, upon reviewing the photos, that I noticed he had zoomed in on Betsy’s face. Just her face.

I feel like something is missing here... hmmm. Maybe it's just me. (GET IT?)

Yup. I’m as special as a snowflake.

4) The pin incident
During our time in Istanbul, we made very good friends with the family who ran one of the souvenir shops in our neighborhood. The first morning we arrived, we were walking by on our way to the Blue Mosque and came across them having breakfast and tea outside their shop. They offered us some of their cheese (apparently from their hometown of Van, on the Eastern boarder of  Turkey) and much to their and Betsy’s surprise, I accepted.

This is actually a knee-jerk reaction from spending six months in Ghana. It’s pretty common for people to offer you their food if you pass by, and it’s also pretty rude for you to refuse. More often than not they just want to have a short conversation with you and let you go on your way, so when I turned and said “Sure, why not?” it was more of a reflex than anything else. Regardless, it turned out to be one of the best things we did in Istanbul.

We ended up sitting with them for about an hour that morning, talking to Yusuf and Murat, the brothers who were in charge of the twin souvenir and rug shops, both called the Artemis Store. We talked about mosques to see, restaurants to hit, and our trip thus far. They didn’t try to sell us anything, and we ended up making good friends with them.

At the end of the Istanbul stay, just before we were leaving, we stopped by to say goodbye to them. We went into the shop, sat down and talked for about an hour. Betsy and I really want to come back to Turkey and see the rest of the country outside of Istanbul, and we talked about how when we came back we’d have to visit them. We were mid-conversation when Yusuf walked in, holding a pin.

Or, to be more specific, he walked over to Betsy whilst holding a pin.

“Here. This is for you. To be safe on your travels.” She said thanks, and accepted the pin. I looked over expectantly. “Ah, but I could only find one so Laura doesn’t get one.”

Pictured: Betrayal

That’s when Betsy almost died of laughter. But, to be fair, these guys weren’t really on the creepy end of the spectrum. They never once used bad pick up lines or weird suggestions. They were just friends. Well, friends who preferred Betsy. (I kid)

5) Jealous Shop Guy
The first day in Istanbul, after we had breakfast with the Artemis Shop Guys, we wandered over to the Blue Mosque and the surrounding area, called the Spice Market. This market had a variety of stores, including ceramic stores, scarf stores, and jewelry stores, among other things. We were just browsing the first day, getting to know the area and what souvenirs we might want to buy, and we wandered into a shop that had a little bit of everything.

Betsy was admiring the plates, looking at the different ceramics while I was obsessing over a very expensive necklace that I will never be able to own (unless anyone knows of any available billionaires who like eccentric ladies named Laura?) when Betsy and I began our usual banter. We started talking about various inside jokes, this and that, and Betsy commented that maybe her boyfriend Paco might like to buy her some of the expensive jewelry. Instead of laughing at the joke, the shopkeeper froze like a dead fish.

No, seriously. He got upset. He escorted us out of his shop (not that we would have been able to buy anything in there anyway) and continued to tell us even as we were walking way that, “You can not come back here. You,” he pointed at me, “can, as you don’t have any friends. You,” he pointed at Betsy, “can’t.”

6) Candy Man
It seems we leave the creepiest for last. While everyone else on this list has been amusing and fun and not altogether serious in their advances upon my friend, this last guy hands-down wins the Creeper of Istanbul award.

It started out regularly enough.

We had arrived way too early for our night train out of Istanbul. Instead of waiting for an hour in the lounge, filled with smokers and questionable characters, we decided to see if there was a cafe or somewhere to sit on the square outside. We adventured about and found, right across the street from the train station, a sweets shop.

Turkish sweets! Score! We hadn’t had a meal consisting only of those yet! So we went in and were greeted at the door by the typical shop guys trying to wrangle up some customers. I went in the shop, immediately seeking a table so I could unload my bag and feel less like Atlas, but I quickly noticed that Betsy wasn’t behind me. She had been waylaid at the door.

“Betsy, why don’t we eat upstairs?” I called out, pulling her away from the questions of the front-door shop guy. She thanked me and we went upstairs to sit.

The waiter came and, after asking us the Standard Questions (See: Ice Cream Ring Guy) offered to get us a plate of sweets selected from the huge menu, since we didn’t quite know what to get. We agreed. Then he said we could have some free tea. Awesome! I love apple tea! Thanks magical Betsy of Troy!

It should be noted that in the process of this snack/dinner/sweet break I somehow managed to pull the sliding window off the hinge and leave it hanging haphazardly on its pane. It was very obvious to anyone who walked by. But it passed without comment from the waiters, somehow, the entire meal. Although every time one passed they did a double-take.

Our tea arrived, as hot as lava, with the rest of the sweets. We ate them pretty quickly, as we had the train to catch, and sipped the tea down as fast as we could. We asked for the check. The waiter brought it, we paid.

However, we had perhaps eaten the sweets TOO quickly. He got excited that we had enjoyed his selections so much that he showed up with an entire extra tray of sweets. On the house. Unlike the others, though, these were the single chewiest things I have ever encountered in my twenty-two years of life. They were like a trap. Give the polite girls loads of chewy candy and tea as hot as lava and make them miss their train! Bwahahaha!

During the whole process, he was also coming by to ask us increasingly creepy questions. Like where we were staying, how long we were to be in Istanbul, where we liked to visit while we explored the city. Fortunately, Betsy and I have learned to support one another’s lies very well, so no important information was revealed.

At one point, Betsy was a champ and downed her lava tea like a pro. I, of course, used this golden opportunity to pour more of my lava tea into her glass because we’re friends and friends share. Sharing is caring! Team work makes the dream work! But I knew it was serious when she reached over, took five of the sticky candy death cubes and shoved them all in her mouth. A noble sacrifice indeed.

We wolfed down the free candy and the lava tea and began to pack up our bags when the waiter returned, asking Betsy to take a picture with him. She did. And then he wanted another, with both of us. And the another with a different background that didn’t have the window I had ripped from its moorings in the background. And then another. And another. Eventually, I simply said: “TRAIN NOW” and pulled Betsy out the door. We sprinted (or more accurately hobbled with our gigantic backpacks as fast as our little legs could carry us) across the square and to the train station, all the while nearly dying of laughter and the oncoming diabetic shock.
It was actually quite nice to be with Helen of Troy whilst in Turkey as she was a nice sponge for the creepers. And she could always use her “smart” friend as an excuse to get out of the sketchiest of situations.

But still, I have to ask:

Really, men of Istanbul? REALLY?


Happy 4th!

In EuroEast 2011 on 04/07/2011 at 21:55

Just a quick post to say we’re alive and having fun! Hopefully everyone had a wonderful 4th of July (if you are so inclined)!

(because we certainly did, even if we WERE in Bosnia!)

Betsy and Laura