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An Uphill Battle

“Father Time is undefeated.”

You often hear this expression in the sports world, typically in reference to an aging athlete who is clearly past his or her prime and no longer able to perform at the same level.  Those who rely heavily on speed as part of their game, for instance, will inevitably lose a step at some point.  Injuries sustained throughout an athlete’s career have a cumulative effect, with each ensuing malady usually proving more difficult to overcome than the previous one.  As a result, athletes don’t always get to decide when to retire from their sport–oftentimes their bodies make the decision for them.

But we need not have an athletic background to feel the ravages of time–it will affect all of us sooner or later.  Most of us regular folks will invariably battle against a constantly expanding waistline as we age, and that war only gets more difficult the older we get.  Metabolism slows down, forcing us to work that much harder to get the results we want from diet and exercise.  Priorities change as well–in our twenties, some of us will find motivation to work out simply in trying to attract the opposite sex.  But by the time we’ve reached our thirties and beyond, we often focus on things like advancing our careers or raising families.  It’s easy for regular exercise to get lost in the shuffle.

 

In one of my last posts, I mentioned that my girlfriend Mia and I had been developing a plan to get in shape.  Thanks to my aversion to joining a gym and working out in front of the general public, I was looking into something that can be done at home, like following a workout video program.  I combed through the various series offered by Beachbody, the leading producer of home workout videos, who is responsible for well-known titles like Insanity and P90X.  Such programs are known for being brutal, but can be wildly effective for those who have what it takes to survive them.  Of particular interest to me was a newer offshoot of P90X that was designed to pack its same overall intensity level into a shorter, 30-minute daily workout.

This idea was shot down fairly quickly.  Mia considered it, but was unsure whether this was really a good idea.  She consulted one of her co-workers–a personal trainer who had once been a P90X instructor–and was advised that such a workout was really meant more for people who are already in pretty good physical condition that want to crank things up a notch or two.  For someone just starting out–or starting over, as the case may be–it would be asking an awful lot.  And thus the P90X idea is out.  Well, for now, anyway.

Not that I was expecting to immediately dive into something as intense as that and succeed.  I still felt that we should ramp things up a bit with some easier exercises at first to get our bodies more prepared for the torture that was to come.  What I may not have realized is just how much longer the “ramp-up” period would really need to be.  After all, I may not have exercised much in a while, but it’s not like I never have before.  There is enough visible muscle tone in my appearance to at least suggest that I’ve done some working out in the past.  I’ve even occasionally had people ask me whether I’m former military, though I personally believe that has more to do with my typically shorter hair than anything else.

 

Mia works as a health coach who teaches classes online and works with individuals who are in major need of losing weight.  The company she works for offers a series of cardio, strength, and flexibility workout videos to be used by members of the program, as well as a calendar outlining which half-hour workout to execute on any given day as one progresses through the program.  There are five levels of cardio and strength workouts overall, with each successive video getting more difficult than the previous one.  As this series is designed to be used by people in need of weight loss, it can be assumed that someone popping in the initial video has probably not worked out much in a while, if at all.  A P90X-lite, if you will.

The first three weeks on the program calendar involve three or four workouts per week, mostly focusing on the first cardio workout during that time.  Since we figured we should be in a bit better shape than a typical beginner, we skipped ahead to week four, which is really the first full week of the program, consisting of two cardio workouts, two strength workouts, and a flexibility / abdominal day, for a total of five exercises and two rest days.

This was where I found out very quickly that I’ve got a much longer, tougher road ahead of me than I had realized.  After sweating profusely and scuffling to get through the very first cardio workout, it became painfully obvious just how out of shape I had allowed myself to become.  The first strength workout on the following night wasn’t quite as bad, but I wasn’t exactly using heavy weight resistance either.  A short but intense abdominal workout proved difficult the next night, but the ensuing flexibility regimen felt like a welcome respite designed largely to help recover from the previous exercises and prepare for the next ones.  Thankfully, the second cardio workout a few days later didn’t feel nearly as rough as the first one, so progress had certainly been made by the end of the week.

 

We’re now in the middle of week two.  Once again, it will be five workouts over the course of the week, in the same format: cardio, strength, abs/flexibility, strength again, and another cardio routine to finish the week.  But now we’re onto “Cardio 2” and “Strength 2,” and the increased difficulty is noticeable.  I scuffled my way through the first cardio workout on Monday, sweating more than Mia has ever seen.  Once again, the strength workout the next day was somehow easier, although I did challenge myself with more weight and resistance during a couple exercises, and barely got through some of them.  Tonight will be the relative break that is the abdominal / flexibility routine, before returning to the same workouts from the previous two nights.

I can say that I’m feeling a little better overall after a week and a half of exercising, which is to be expected.  But it’s also clear that I’ve got a very long way to go before I’m anywhere near where I ultimately want to be.  That was also expected, but the sheer gap between where I am now and even where I was a few years ago is startling.  The good news is that this time I’ve got a great workout partner to help power me through and keep me going, and we’re both determined to make it happen.  Mia has, only half-jokingly, suggested climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in five years, which I’m at least keeping in the back of my mind for now.  In the meantime, we’ve got a pretty steep metaphorical hill to climb.  Maybe someday we’ll also be scaling a very real one too.

First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make one.

While this may be true of first impressions, it does admittedly overstate their importance.  Plenty of conclusions are drawn right away, and many will ultimately prove to be accurate.  Some will not be.  Others will change over time.  Nevertheless, we’re constantly finding ourselves on both the giving and receiving ends of snap judgments, for better or worse.  But as much as we tend to think of first impressions in relation to other people, there are countless other ways in which we are making instantaneous decisions about whatever we encounter.

 

Having just completed two full weeks’ worth of shifts at my latest occupation, it seems like a fair time to assess both my specific position and the company for whom I now work.  It would be unfair to make too many definitive declarations before I’ve even received my first full paycheck or become eligible for benefits, but there’s enough data to go on to at least get a general sense of what I can expect going forward.  Of course, the very first impression was made during the application process, when both the company and I were each trying to determine whether we might make a good match as employer and employee.

The process of seeking new employment is often prolonged and frustrating, as I’ve experienced on multiple occasions over the last few years.  What I would consider my “best” job up to this point was my time spent working in the accounts payable department for a major online travel company, which I did for eight years before falling victim to a department-wide relocation.  The pay was modest, albeit sufficient, but I viewed at as a very favorable work environment, carrying such perks as a relaxed dress code and the ability to listen to an iPod on headphones, all thanks to its complete lack of in-person customer interaction, which itself was also a major plus in my book.

It would be fair to say that I’ve been seeking an adequate replacement for that job ever since, which included a relatively brief return to that same company in a totally different capacity.  Truthfully, the second go-round always felt like a temporary fix until something better came along, as I reluctantly accepted a call center position with them out of sheer desperation, and only remained with the company for another half year before leaving for good.

Afterwards, I returned to the banking industry, in which I had previously been a teller for about five years mainly during my college years, only now I was working in the so-called “note department,” drawing up commercial loan documents.  The salary was comparable to what I had been making during my first tour with the travel company, and the work was challenging enough to learn and keep me mentally engaged, but it still never felt quite as enjoyable overall.  I considered it to be fine at the time, particularly after spending nearly two full years adrift in the wake of that layoff, but if asked the question of where I would want to be in five years, that position didn’t seem like the correct answer.  Frankly, neither did anything else within banking.

 

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, my long-term method of earning an income could wind up being substantially different, possibly in the form of writing this or another blog, or perhaps taking on a significant role within the lingerie company that my girlfriend is trying to build.  But in the meantime, the hope is to simply find a relatively stable full-time job that pays a livable wage and fosters an enjoyable work environment.  So it is fitting that, nearly four years after being laid off from what was my best and longest-tenured occupation, I have returned to the travel / hospitality industry, this time working in the accounts payable department for a timeshare company.  Certainly there is a familiar feel to it, as it seems to be similar work to what I had once done.  In fact, the office is just down the road from the prior travel company, which offers a much better commute than I had at the bank.

The first floor of the building houses a marketing department call center, which is apparently prone to having loud weekly rallies honoring top performers.  I, on the other hand, work on the much quieter second floor, as an accounting department tends not to make a great deal of noise.  Unless, of course, you supply your own in the form of listening to an iPod while you work, which is now an option again.  The dress code isn’t quite as lax as the prior travel company, where employees like myself would frequently show up wearing a T-shirt and shorts, but I need not wear the dress shirt and slacks required at the bank.  And I’m continuing to work standard business hours, which works very well for me.  Overall, I’m not sure the environment figures to be quite as fun as the original travel company was, but having already had an opportunity to do a good bit of work on my own, I can say that the workflow seems to be steady, and the day does not usually feel like it’s dragging along.

My very first day on the job was a bit rocky, as I was receiving desk-level training from a very quiet woman who speaks broken English in a very thick accent.  And this particular team consists only of another woman and myself, so options would be limited.  I was a bit concerned about receiving proper training as I headed home from day one.  As luck would have it though, I ended up sitting with the other woman the next day, who may have been a less experienced worker, but proved to be a far better trainer, and I left worked that day feeling far more comfortable that this would end up alright for me.

 

The job is not without its drawbacks, however, which is true about pretty much every job in existence.  For one, there is a rather strict policy within the department that requires us to keep cell phones off the floor, and thus lockers are provided to store items during one’s shift.  Not a major issue for me, really, but I won’t be able to see and respond to a text message until I’m on a break, which could be problematic if I need to be contacted more urgently about something.  Secondly, internet usage seems to be completely restricted to business purposes only.  While I’m generally pretty good about staying on task and keeping slack-off time to a minimum, I’ve found that, say, reading an article on ESPN.com for a few minutes is a great way to give myself a mini-break and get refocused.  I’ll surely miss having that ability at some point down the road.

But the most disappointing, and frankly surprising, discovery came during a new hire orientation, during which we were provided a brief company history and philosophy.  Again, it is a timeshare company, and one of its basic principles is encouraging its customers to take, and use, their allotted vacation time, citing the mental health benefits of being able to recharge and enjoy a getaway with friends or family.  All of this seems perfectly fine and legit, until it is later revealed that the standard company policy is to offer but one solitary week of vacation to employees within their first year of service.  As my mom would tell it, such a policy was pretty standard operating procedure years ago, but it feels archaic and shockingly restrictive nowadays.  Get out and go on vacation!  Well, unless you work here, that is.

 

So with all that said, it’s mostly off to a good start.  It is interesting, though, how perception has already evolved from the initial training on day one, to the new hire orientation a few days later, to today, where I’m officially two weeks in and already working predominantly on my own.  Will I love this job?  Probably not.  But it does feel like a legitimate improvement over the prior stop, and it may just be able to provide however much staying power I really need until, well, whatever comes next.  For the foreseeable future, at least, the long and grinding search appears to be over.

Life Marches On

Setting goals is a good thing.  Reaching them, however, can often prove to be quite difficult.

In my previous post, “The Collaborators,” I mentioned that I had set a personal goal of writing two entries per week.  My last post was nearly three weeks ago.  Oops.

A few days after my previous post, when the next one likely would’ve been written, I suffered through a bout of presumed food poisoning that proceeded to make my life miserable for at least a day and a half.  I had intended to take my car in for its next scheduled maintenance on that Tuesday (two weeks ago today), but the illness delayed that plan for a couple days.

I brought my car in for service two days later, figuring to spend maybe two hours waiting for an oil change, inspection, and any further maintenance that might be necessary.  The day before, I had experienced an issue with my car starting to overheat on the way home from some errands, but after discovering that there was virtually no coolant left in it, I Uber-ed my way over to a Wal-Mart to buy some, and figured that the problem was thus solved once I filled up the tank.

Not so much.  Within a couple miles of driving away from the shop, I observed my car overheating again, just after the car had received its recommended maintenance.  Apparently the routine inspection of the vehicle had not been enough to discover a leaky radiator in need of replacement.  Once they found this problem, the station offered to fix it that afternoon before closing up for the day, but would do so at a stiff price.  On the advice of my girlfriend Mia, who knows significantly more about cars than I do, I decided to take the car elsewhere.  After all, I could still drive it for a short distance before the overheating would become a problem.

I was able to take the car over to another auto mechanic just before their shop closed, where I left it overnight to be worked on in the morning.  The shop, recommended by a friend who has gone there several times, charged half the price that I would’ve paid at the original place.  Clearly, it was well worth the mild annoyance of leaving the car overnight and picking it up the next day.

By this time it was Friday afternoon, and after driving the car around town a bit to ensure that the problem was actually fixed this time, I headed home and queued up yet another session of Final Fantasy XII, a video game I’ve been diligently playing for months.  Meanwhile, after spending about three months surfing the web to find new employment, I had finally received a job offer with a scheduled start date of June 1st, a Thursday.  Mia and I had also planned on taking a road trip from that Saturday through the Wednesday right before my job started, so that Friday would be my final day spent at home before starting a new job.  I wanted to relax and enjoy it, so writing a blog post was probably not going to happen that day.

 

I was also certain that I would not be writing any posts during the trip.  While it’s true that one of the draws to blogging is that I can theoretically do so anywhere I’ve got a computer and an internet connection, this particular trip was not going to be the time to prove it.  We spent the weekend celebrating Mia’s mom’s birthday in Walnut, California before driving down to San Diego to watch three Cubs games.  It was also our one-year anniversary as a couple, which would have made it especially disappointing if any lingering car troubles had prevented us from going.

It was at least conceivable that I could’ve written my next post on Thursday evening, after returning home from my first day of work.  But that, too, was pretty unlikely.  Mia was still on vacation and did not return to work until today, and I’ve found it easiest to write while she’s busy teaching her online classes.  So with this being my best opportunity to write in some time, I knew I needed to take advantage, and here I am.  Hey, better late than never, I suppose.

 

I guess it’s fair to say that it has been a very eventful few weeks, and it’s also easy to see how writing has temporarily taken a backseat to other things both good and bad.  While life figures to return to a more normal routine going forward, it will still be a challenge to determine how the blog fits into the big picture.  On the one hand, I don’t expect to get sick, deal with car troubles, or take any more major trips in the near future.  And I swear that I’m finally nearing the end of that ridiculously long Final Fantasy XII adventure that has consumed so much of my free time during the last four months or so.

On the other hand, I’ve just rejoined the full-time working world, which now limits my writing mostly to weekday evenings.  On top of that, Mia and I are also planning to start working out on a daily basis, ramping up with relatively easy stuff for a couple weeks before taking on the infamously difficult P90X program to get back in shape.  It figures to be a daunting task, and will further limit the window of time in which to write.  But if I still believe that it is an important and worthy pursuit to commit my thoughts to paper–or, well, computer screen–then I’ll find the time to keep it going as regularly as I had intended.  No matter how busy you may think you are, there will always be time for the things that really matter in life.  It’s just not always easy to determine what those things might be.

Coming to Terms

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”

This quote, attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, is a very matter-of-fact, no-nonsense response to everyone’s never-ending battle with Father Time.  Regardless of what point along the timeline you’re currently on, you will always be moving in the same direction–getting older.  Sometimes this is viewed as a good thing, like when you’re 19 or 20 and anxiously awaiting the world of opportunities that opens up to you once you’ve reached the magic number of 21.  But there can eventually come a time when the numbers feel intimidating, such as the completion of one decade and the start of another.

There are several reasons why this happens.  For starters, there is an adjustment period to having your age start with a new digit, and to the stereotypes that may come along with it.  Not everyone lives life according to the pigeonholed timeline of expectation; many twenty-somethings have had the kinds of life experiences that mature them well beyond their expected years, while a good number of forty-somethings have yet to truly outgrow the college frat boy or sorority girl mentality expected of someone half their age.

Similarly, age can be intimidating because of its stereotypes, in the form of expectations that might not yet be met.  In my initial post on this blog, I noted that many of us struggle to ever truly answer the infamous question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  And while only some of us will successfully answer this question by the time we are old enough to actually get out into the “real world,” there is a general assumption that we’ll at least have this answer by the time we’re in our thirties.

 

There are other aspects of life, though, that also tend to correlate strongly with one’s chronological age.  Recently, my girlfriend Mia and I have noticed several in particular, both within our own common activities and in the lives of those around us.  Those of us in our thirties often like to deny their age, saying things like, “I still feel like I’m in my twenties!”  But, as I half-jokingly told Mia the other day, one of the fastest ways to return to the reality that we truly are in our thirties is to actually hang around with twenty-somethings, or to simply hear the stories they tell from their daily lives.

To wit, one’s twenties are the first true decade of adulthood, which lends itself to a relatively carefree pursuit of life’s guilty pleasures that may have been denied in youth.  Drinking, driving, gambling, staying out late, and engaging in sexual relations are all among the vices of adulthood that have only just been made available without the constant shadow of parental supervision.  For most of us, the temptations of such things are nearly impossible to completely deny, and we often ignore the warnings and teachings of our elders as we pursue them.  The end result is that there are a number of life lessons destined to be learned the hard way.

In contrast, a typical hallmark of one’s thirties is a greatly diminished desire to go hard and live in constant party mode.  Maybe we’ve heard too many stories from others about drinking too much, sleeping around and getting caught, or experimenting with drugs.  Maybe we’ve witnessed such destructive things firsthand.  Or maybe we’re the ones telling the stories from personal experience.  At any rate, our thirties tend to be an age at which we begin to crave more stability in the next phase of life.  There is no longer the pressure to get married and start a family by the age of 25, as would have been the case in the 1950’s, but for most of us, life has its own way of eventually guiding us in that general direction, which tends to happen in our late twenties or early thirties.

 

As you might expect, a few recent events I’ve witnessed have inspired this topic.  A couple months ago, Mia and I went out one night with a few of her co-workers.  As the gathering prepared to move on from its original meeting place, there was naturally some debate as to where we would go next.  We had been talking with one of the guys in the group about karaoke spots in town, as he had recently moved to Las Vegas but had also hosted karaoke in his previous home.  Mia and I would’ve jumped at the idea of heading to a karaoke bar, especially considering that a friend of mine had recently begun hosting it at a place very close to home.

But that wasn’t where we ended up.  Rather, one of the driving forces behind leaving the original spot was its admittedly higher alcohol prices, and a few members of that night’s group wanted to find a place with cheap drinks.  Mia and I were a bit less thrilled by this suggestion.  While we’re not exactly OK with paying $15 for a Captain and Coke at some trendy club, we’re also well past the point where two dollar beer night can be seen as a major draw.  At some point, you get what you pay for, and if you can’t afford $5 for a decent beer or cocktail, perhaps you should reconsider whether it’s a good idea to even go out at all.

We reluctantly agreed to head to Dive Bar X, but still opted for cocktails over cheap beer.  Our tab for a couple drinks apiece was still quite reasonable, and very much on the lower end of a typical night out, and yet a couple of the others still found it surprising that we hadn’t joined them in drinking discount beer.  But it really just confirms a common difference between twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings; they wanted to drink as much as possible for as little as possible, while Mia and I were happy with a couple decent cocktails instead.  Some (if not all) of them were looking to get drunk; we were not.

 

Within the past month or so, we’ve seen twenty-something colleagues drink way too much and fail to remain faithful to significant others.  Mia and I, on the other hand, have found ourselves frequently walking around art galleries and furniture stores, imagining how a future condo together might be designed.  We also walked around The Container Store for the first time, only to find ourselves way too excited by all of the merchandise there that could be used to better organize our lives.  If ever there was a moment that loudly proclaimed, “YOU’RE IN YOUR THIRTIES,” that was it.

But honestly, we don’t mind.  Neither of us was ever a particularly wild party-goer even in our twenties, and we certainly aren’t now.  We do still go out quite often, frequenting karaoke bars and a host of different restaurants, but it’s never with the intention of drinking heavily or gambling substantial amounts of money.  We certainly don’t claim to have anywhere near all of the answers in life, but we can at least feel that we’ve learned plenty from the past and have started putting together a definitive plan for the future.  Sometimes it would be nice to relive younger days, but ultimately, the thirties aren’t too shabby.  And there’s still more than enough time to get to where we ultimately want to be.

The Collaborators

“One key to entrepreneurial success is to get a great group of people around you who believe in your idea.”

My girlfriend Mia recently found this quote from Virgin mega-mogul Richard Branson and posted it on Facebook.  You won’t find it on her main page, though.  She most certainly could have posted it there to be seen by any of her friends scrolling through their feeds, but she instead posted to a private group.  And the truth is, such a quote is not for everybody to read and consider.

Pursuing bigger dreams and goals in life seems like a worthy activity that we all should be doing, but is one that most of us never actually do.  Maybe we’re afraid to venture out on our own and leave the supposed security of being employed.  Maybe we don’t feel like we have the talent, knowledge, or tenacity to create something huge.  Maybe we simply don’t have any particularly big dreams, and are content to carve out simple lives.  But maybe all that’s really holding some of us back is the lack of a quality support system–perhaps all the people around us are telling us “no,” when what we really need is a support group of believers saying “yes.”

 

Mia currently works for a major company as a health coach, but has envisioned starting her own lingerie company for many years.  A few of her co-workers also have designs on building their own businesses, staying within the same general industry of health and fitness coaching but ultimately doing so independently.  Each business is in a rather early stage of development, but some degree of legitimate work and research has been done on all of them.  One in particular, a personal fitness training company, is already earning an income and is now focusing more on building an existing brand.

Once upon a time, Mia lived in a complex where she would often start her day by getting to pick the brains of a few other highly entrepreneurial residents over coffee.  She has, for instance, encountered a man who runs a very successful business selling medical equipment, though he himself knows virtually nothing about how the equipment works.  What he does know is how to properly build and run a business, and a large component of that is finding and employing professionals who are experts on the equipment being sold.

Mia decided it was time to bring this principle to her band of budding entrepreneur co-workers by forming a group that would meet every other week or so.  The goal would be to bounce ideas off each other, leverage each other’s backgrounds and strengths, and come up with short-term action plans of what each person could work on for the next couple weeks until the group reconvened.  It would serve as a support group of people that believe in each other’s ideas, helping each person to overcome the inevitable roadblocks along the way when confidence might be lacking.  But it would also discourage laziness by providing accountability for all involved–nobody really wants to be the one who comes to the next meeting having to admit that they failed to accomplish their own personal goals as promised.

 

Last weekend, the group met for the first time.  Mia asked me if I wanted to join them, and I was reluctant at first.  I had felt that the meeting was meant more for Mia and her co-workers, sans significant others.  Furthermore, I wasn’t quite sure what I might bring to the table in such a group, since I did not personally have my own business idea.  Nevertheless, Mia convinced me to go anyway, and I was actually glad that I did.

I should remind you that when I started this blog a couple months ago, I didn’t necessarily have a larger goal in mind with it.  There was certainly a possibility that it could evolve into a new career in some way, and that possibility still exists now.  Whether the blog itself eventually morphs into something that could be monetized, or whether it merely serves as a writing sample to be used in gaining employment writing elsewhere, I’ll acknowledge that this could be the start of something big.  But maybe not.  For the time being, it simply remains a vehicle to get me back into writing for fun, and that’s good enough.

How I first used our newfound group to hold myself accountable was by making sure that I do, in fact, keep up with writing these posts on a regular basis.  Initially, my goal was to post a new article twice a week, and of late, I had been failing to meet that goal, posting once every week-and-a-half or so.  But by declaring my twice-a-week intentions to multiple people, I would now have extra incentive to follow through–thus legitimizing my membership within a group of doers and dreamers.

For the record, my other stated goal was to finish reading Big Magic, an excellent motivational book by the author of Eat Pray Love that encourages living creatively.  It’s a book I highly recommend, even for those of us who are quite content working standard jobs to draw paychecks, because creative living is also very much about pursuing a passion in one’s spare time, whether or not it ever materializes into anything more than a hobby.  Again, for myself, that would include this very blog, among other things.

 

As it turned out, I was able to offer more value to our initial entrepreneur’s meeting than I expected.  While I’ve never actually worked in the field, I did earn a bachelor’s degree in marketing years ago.  Once upon a time, I thought it might make a great career to work for an advertising agency, helping to develop entertaining and funny commercials.  I never seriously pursued such a career after college, though, and eventually settled into a string of unrelated jobs.

That said, I seem to have developed a keen understanding of how to apply basic marketing principles to daily life, particularly when it comes to knowing your audience.  For example, as a regular karaoke performer, I maintain a wide repertoire of songs in my arsenal, and I have a strong feel for how to best use them to entertain a crowd and receive a better response.  For instance, the Snoop Dogg classic “Gin & Juice” is actually one of my top go-to songs, but if the crowd is mainly white people over 40, I’ll pick something else to sing.

Where such knowledge can come into play within our newly-formed entrepreneurial group is in helping the others to determine their target markets and focus on how to reach them.  Our personal trainer, for example, has created a very masculine logo and brand name for his company, but still wants to appeal to women.  And as for Mia’s budding lingerie company, we’ve discussed her motivation behind the business and which women she wants to target.  I actually came up with the working company/brand name, which has been extremely well-received by all who have heard it, and I’ve even used my admittedly-limited graphic design skills to mock up a preliminary logo.  We’re also narrowing down a more exact picture of “our girl” that would best represent the brand.  It’s proving to be a fun and thrilling challenge.

 

And thus, my current and ongoing quest of self-discovery has recently taken a sharp and unexpected turn.  It is quite likely that, in the short-term, I will remain employed within the same general umbrella of day jobs to keep paying the bills.  But now, a bigger picture is becoming clearer, and it looks very promising.  Perhaps this blog shall ultimately serve to document the rise of a highly visible and successful brand name from its very infancy.  I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

Seeing it Through

Everybody needs to be held accountable in life.

There are a number of different ways in which this occurs naturally.  One of the most basic is, of course, the legal system and its enforcement.  Minor infractions, such as speeding, may be punished with annoyances like traffic tickets, while more major violations, like embezzlement and narcotics possession, can result in prison sentences.  For those of us who generally live on the right side of the law, accountability still exists in plenty of other forms, most notably employment.  There are (or at least should be) incentives for doing your job reliably, such as raises, promotions and awards.  Likewise, consequences exist for failing to do the job, the most extreme of which being termination.

In both of the above cases, accountability is already in place, as both the rewards and consequences have been well established for you.  But often times, we have goals and dreams that go unfulfilled simply because we have not pushed ourselves hard enough to reach them.  Consider New Year’s resolutions.  We all have ways in which we want to improve, and flipping over to the next year on the calendar provides a natural point in time for self-reflection about what we’ve done over the past year, where we are currently, and where we’d like to be going forward.  Many of us, for instance, take this opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “Boy, I sure could stand to lose some weight.”  Maybe we feel inspired enough to join gyms and begin working out.

But reality sets in very quickly.  After that first attempt at working out in umpteen weeks, months, or even years, you’ll find yourself hurting everywhere for at least the next day or two.  Perhaps you push through that and go back again, perhaps not.  Even if you do return for another session, though, it’s only a matter of time before you become exasperated.  You’re tired of feeling physically sore.  You’re frustrated that it’s taking much longer than you’d hoped to start seeing the results you had envisioned.  And, all too often, you just quit.  There is a good reason why gyms are packed full of people during January and February but frequently become relative ghost towns by March.

 

How, then, might we actually overcome the obstacles to actually reach such goals?  Sometimes we need to create the accountability that may not exist naturally on its own.  Whatever the ultimate goal might be, it is always a great idea to have incentives or rewards in place for accomplishments made along the way, but also to have consequences for coming up short on both effort and results.  Maybe you’ve decided that you want to lose 30 pounds.  It’s a big dream that will certainly take some time to achieve, and will thus require a great deal of diligence to accomplish.

For starters, it helps to view this big goal as the long-term project it is, and to therefore break it up into smaller, measurable steps that will serve as checkpoints along the way.  About a year and a half ago, I embarked on such a quest just before Thanksgiving, and wound up shedding just over 20 pounds in about half a year.  It was a slow, steady pace that surely could’ve been more dramatic, with bigger and faster results.  But at the time, my goal was to incorporate gradual lifestyle changes that had a better chance of sticking with me in the long term.  On a short-term basis, I figured that if I could maintain a consistent pace of losing about a pound per week, then I would eventually get to where I wanted to be.

I can’t honestly say that I ever did see this project all the way through to my ultimate weight loss and fitness goal, but at the very least, I experienced some degree of success and established a blueprint for how I can eventually complete this mission down the road.  What had originally led me to take on the weight loss quest in the first place was the rather sobering reality that my current pairs of slacks and jeans were no longer fitting comfortably.  So beyond the simple cosmetic goal of liking what I saw in the mirror, I’d received a financial penalty of having to buy several pairs of pants the next size up–a tangible and legitimate consequence for having let myself go a bit too much.  I was determined, first and foremost, to return to my previous pant size–one at which I had remained for years–and by dropping 20 pounds, I was able to realize this particular goal.

Unfortunately, I then took a break from this mission, allowing myself to become distracted by other things in life.  Most notably and quite fortuitously, I had begun dating Mia, my current girlfriend, around this time, which has been an unequivocally positive life-altering development in countless ways.  Its only real drawback was that I essentially used such a dramatic lifestyle change as an excuse to divert attention away from this fitness mission for a while.  But the reality is that while I did have a strong enough desire to return to a previous pant size, which was certainly a major goal along the way, I clearly have not displayed sufficient interest in surpassing that goal and achieving even better results.  The ultimate goal is still a long way away, and the first step in its direction from here is to find the proper motivation that will guide me there.

 

The future, however, looks very bright.  Mia and I both share long-term goals of improved fitness, and have already incorporated some activities to help reach them, such as hiking up a large hill at a nearby park, tracking daily steps taken with a pedometer, and aiming to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water on a daily basis.  We’ve also discussed other things to start doing soon, such as taking a dance class.  But the bottom line in all of it is that we are working on such improvements together, which ultimately holds us accountable to one another for continuing along the right path.  And while this post has focused more specifically upon health and fitness, such accountability applies to many other areas of life as well.  It’s easy to give up or lose focus when you’re trying to achieve a major goal all by yourself.  It’s a lot harder to do so when someone is there to support you or push you to keep going.  Valleys are an inevitability in life.  Staying down in them, fortunately, is not.

A Shrinking Globe

Geography was my favorite subject in school.

It’s hard to say that it was always my favorite, because it’s not the kind of subject that you take for years, like math or English.  But by the time I took a World Geography class in 8th grade, I had already possessed extensive knowledge of the world at large.  Back then, if I had been given a blank political map of the Earth with only the outlines of countries, I could have labeled almost every one of them correctly, along with the capital cities of each.  During all three years of eligibility–6th, 7th, and 8th grade–I represented my school at the state level of the National Geography Bee.  Not to brag, but I’ve since forgotten more geography factoids than many people have ever known in the first place.

The seeds for such knowledge were planted during my elementary school days.  One of my more prized possessions at the time was a spinning world globe that fascinated me more than such a thing really should.  For a time, my favorite computer or video game was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  I also frequently watched the PBS kids’ game show derived from that same game.  And I apparently had a strange interest in road maps as well, which often led me to taking on the role of navigator during family road trips.  During down time in class, when other kids would often be doodling, talking, or passing notes, I sometimes drew up road maps for fictitious places of my own creation.

Ironically though, despite having all of that in my background, I very rarely traveled any farther from home than the neighboring states of California, Utah, and Arizona.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been out to the Chicago area once or twice to visit family, and I had gone to Orlando for a week with my dad…and that’s really about it.  So it’s fair to say that I simultaneously built up a wealth of knowledge of the globe and yet remained very much in the dark about most of the cultures it housed.  It’s one thing to hear the stories of others who have visited, say, Paris.  It’s an entirely different thing to go there yourself and create your own stories.

 

And thus, by the time my cousin and I had decided to take that two-week trip to Turkey and Greece, both places seemed somehow exotic and yet familiar at the same time.  I could’ve easily identified both countries on a world map, but how much more did I really know about either place?  Athens and Istanbul both rank highly among the world’s oldest and most famous cities, and they each house several major landmarks that stand as testament to their lengthy histories.  The Parthenon, for example, was constructed in the 5th century BC, and still stands atop the Acropolis overlooking the city of Athens.  Istanbul is home to the Hagia Sophia, an enormous church built in the 6th century AD.  And there are plenty of other historical sites worth visiting in both cities.

But while I had seen places like the Parthenon in photographs, it’s fair to say that my true knowledge of both cities was pretty limited.  Growing up on computer games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? or the Civilization series, it’s easy to just think of Athens and Istanbul as ancient cities defined largely by these monuments to their past.  The reality is that both cities have developed into gigantic, and very modern, metropolises extending well beyond such relics.  Coming from Las Vegas, a city that is barely a century old, and within a country that is only about twice that age, it is fascinating and nearly unfathomable to see this stark contrast of such ancient buildings surrounded by standard 21st-century architecture and technology.

To that end, perhaps the single biggest takeaway from the entire experience was that, despite the obvious differences in languages, customs, cultural norms, and history, daily life in both cities is far more comparable to life in a major American city than what one might expect.  It seems to be just about as common to see local Athenians browsing the Internet while sipping their morning coffee as it would be in New York.  Likewise in Istanbul, it admittedly looks a bit odd at first to see a Muslim woman chatting on a cell phone while covered head to toe in a burqa, but after spending a week within the city and seeing this happen numerous times, it begins to seem far more commonplace and even expected.

Both cities are quite accustomed to welcoming thousands of tourists from around the globe on a daily basis, and as such, most of the locals working in such areas learn to speak passable English, thus greatly reducing the language barrier one might expect to face.  The cuisines are obviously different based largely upon the availability and popularity of certain foodstuffs regionally, but ultimately, they still eat many of the same meats, vegetables, and grains that we do in America.  Natives of these Mediterranean cities can be every bit as passionate about sports as Americans, with the biggest difference being that soccer is the game of choice rather than football or baseball.

 

In short, the differences between such foreign cities and ours are readily apparent, which makes such destinations exotic and intriguing.  But at the same time, there are enough commonalities between here and there that is surprisingly easy to absorb and enjoy the foreign culture without feeling completely awkward and out of place.  Having finally experienced this for myself a few years ago, I’ve since expressed a far greater level of interest in exploring the next one, whichever it may be.  There are, in fact, many potential destinations out there that are just waiting to be transformed from dots on maps and answers to trivia questions into living, breathing places that generate invaluable memories and stories for years to come.  Thirty-three years passed before I was able to experience a foreign culture in a foreign place.  It won’t be another 33 before I do so again.

The Original Online Diary

Evidently I am celebrating an anniversary today.

Thus far, most of the writing I’ve done here has discussed the two-week trip that my cousin Keith and I took to Turkey and Greece.  As it so happens, I just logged into Facebook a moment ago, and was immediately reminded that four years ago today, I had posted an album of some photos taken along a black sand beach in Santorini, Greece.  That was, in fact, the last full day of our adventure before we would fly back to Athens for the night and begin the long journey back home the next morning.

In an obvious nod to the modern era of technology and social media, the two were quite interconnected from the beginning.  I previously wrote about the quick overnight trip to Vancouver, Canada that I took with my parents, which had been the only time I’d ever set foot outside U.S. soil prior to this trip.  However, it is, to this day, still the only occasion on which my parents have left the country, which left them understandably concerned about my safety and well-being in taking a trip of this magnitude.  Thus, with phone contact from halfway around the world potentially costing a fortune, I chose to employ Facebook as my method of staying in touch.

Throughout each day of the trip, I snapped plenty of photos and jotted down interesting notes and observations as we explored.  Each night, once we had returned to our room to turn in for the day, I then selected a group of my favorite pictures taken, and posted them to Facebook along with a brief summary of that day’s events.  That way, in order for my parents to know how our trip was going and see what we had been up to, all they would need to do was check Facebook that day.  As an added bonus, it was also a means of broadcasting such things to any other friends and family that would be interested, rather than attempting to sum up an entire two-week trip with photos and stories the next time I talked to any of them in person.

Just as importantly for me, however, is that the Facebook posts served as a journal for documenting many of those same observations I had made during the trip.  For me, the iPod notepad has been a staple method of jotting down notes on the go ever since I first bought one.  Some, like grocery lists, are meant to be temporary, while others may refer to projects I’m working on at any given time or references that I’d like to have on me, such as a long running list of karaoke stage names I use, and are thus meant to remain on the iPod for much longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, when syncing an iPod to the iTunes program on a computer, notepad notes are not among the items that are automatically backed up in the process.  And as fate would have it, last year I inadvertently dropped my iPod down a flight of stairs, damaging it beyond any hopes of salvaging its existing data.  If it could even be repaired at all, it would essentially have to be reset to the condition in which it was originally purchased.  Since I regularly sync my iPod with iTunes, this isn’t a huge problem overall…except for those precious notepad notes.

 

All of the pictures I took during the trip, as well as the hundreds taken on Keith’s superior digital camera, are saved on my laptop and backed up on an external hard drive.  Outside of some natural disaster completely destroying my residence and everything in it, I can feel reasonably assured that I will not lose such precious data.  Had I been able to back up the notepad notes when syncing my iPod, I would feel the same about those.  Thus it is reassuring to know that I had posted most of those same observations on my Facebook journal, where they can be retrieved from a more reliable source than my memory.

In fact, as an indication of just how unreliable one’s memories can be, I went back and reread the daily posts from this trip and found that I had apparently mixed up two of the events.  Previously, I wrote about our dining experiences during the trip and discussed our encounters with American fast food restaurant staples abroad, noting that a McDonald’s in Istanbul offered a “shrimp burger” while a Burger King in Athens offered what was more or less a downsized version of the typical American menu.  Turns out, the Burger King we went to was actually in Istanbul, while my McDonald’s shrimp burger was eaten in Athens.  Clearly, it is helpful to have a written or photographic record in the moment rather than trying to recall it a few years later.

 

During our time in Istanbul, we had visited the Suleyman and Rustem Pasha Mosques, both of which were designed by the same architect during the 16th century.  As it turned out, though, this architect’s name had repeatedly popped up while we visited other parts of Istanbul, and even came up again during our time in Greece.  It seemed as though half of Istanbul was designed by this man, to the point that it became a running joke between Keith and me, as we started attributing many other creations to him in jest.  The Hagia Sophia, which had been built about 1000 years before he was born?  Surely he must have designed that somehow in a previous life.  The one solitary escalator we encountered at a metro stop?  Definitely must have been his work as well.

Thing is, I couldn’t quite remember this architect’s name at first.  I had jotted it down on one of those notepad notes on my iPod, but apparently hadn’t included it in any of my Facebook posts, which made it more challenging to recall.  Eventually, I did remember the name “Sinan,” and I confirmed it to be correct via Wikipedia.  But that little nugget of information was one that I almost surely could’ve recovered with just a bit of basic research on the Internet.

On the other hand, Keith and I had another running joke throughout the trip that might’ve been lost forever had it not been documented within my final observations post on Facebook.  There were several random terms that appeared either in street graffiti or in museum descriptions that we thought would make hilarious or great band names, a list that would include the following: “Severe Style,” “Alabastron,” “Gutter Lion,” “Beetroots,” “Apples of Dischord,” “Skeleton Jamboree,” and “Gorgon Head.”  Suffice to say, street graffiti in Istanbul and Athens can be far more creative and entertaining than what I’ve seen in America–do you really think someone here would randomly spray paint the words “skeleton jamboree” somewhere?

 

So you can see how a social media site like Facebook could really come in handy for documenting such a journey, and I’ve used it similarly on trips I’ve taken since then.  Most notably, my parents and I spent a week in Washington, D.C. last year, and I would once again post the best photos of the day along with a brief commentary on the day’s events.

Perhaps this indeed reveals the true purpose of this very blog.  Not all of life’s thoughts and observations can be shared in a tidy post on Facebook, and those which are simply left to memory can become convoluted over time.  This diary can therefore serve as the perfect vehicle for topics that deserve lengthier discussion or storytelling.  Thus far, it has been centered mostly around one particular vacation that I took exactly four years ago, which just goes to show the kind of lasting impact this trip has had on me in a number of ways.  I’ve quickly realized just how much there is to be written about it, and about other topics I’ve yet to tackle here in any capacity.  We’re just getting started.

A Taste of the Unfamiliar

At long last, it was time to truly venture into foreign territory.

Having refreshed ourselves with a nap in our hotel room, my cousin Keith and I were ready to get out and see what the ancient city of Istanbul had to offer.  Unfortunately, by this time, it was already early evening, so our exploration would be limited on this first day.  Furthermore, we were hungry, and thus finding a worthy restaurant was among our top immediate priorities.

Thankfully, our room was located within relatively short walking distance of Taksim Square, a nightlife-friendly section of the city that you might consider to be Istanbul’s version of the Gaslamp District in San Diego or perhaps a smaller-scale version of New York’s Times Square.  It’s a fine place to visit, particularly in the evenings after the city’s historic landmarks have closed for business.

 

One thing you learn very quickly when walking around Istanbul is that the local population breeds some of the world’s more aggressive salesmen.  There is a street within the square that could easily be called “Restaurant Alley,” with one right after another lining the way on either side, and the street is only wide enough to accommodate foot traffic.  As you walk down this path, you’ll find that nearly every one of these restaurants employs someone who stands near the entrance and practically pulls you into their establishment.  For an unsuspecting tourist without a specific eatery in mind, the decision can very easily be made for you.

This was, in fact, the manner in which our first restaurant of the trip was determined.  We were basically escorted into the place well before we could look through any menus posted outside to decide whether we were interested.  Not until we had already been seated were we able to peruse a menu, and at that point, we could only hope for the best.  Considering my previously expressed concerns regarding the completely unfamiliar cuisine that awaited me, this probably wasn’t the ideal way to select my first meal of the trip.  Suffice to say, I was a bit nervous.

It wouldn’t be long before I was able to settle in and calm down, though.  We ordered an appetizer that was essentially a spicy, buttered shrimp dish served on a skillet, meant to be eaten atop slices of bread that had been served.  Keith and I agreed that it was just…phenomenal.  Hmmm, maybe the dining in Istanbul wouldn’t be such a concern after all.  Throughout the week, in fact, we would be introduced to some excellent fare, which included a Turkish spin on baklava, a sponge-cake dessert called ravani, and a hot drink known as “salep,” which proved to be a wonderful beverage on a couple of the chillier evenings.

 

There would never wind up being another appetizer or main course item that could quite rival those shrimp during our stay in Istanbul, but that’s not to say that the rest of the cuisine was disappointing.  Really, the entire dining experience within the city was substantially better than I would have ever expected, but the shrimp dish had simply set the bar at an unrealistically high level that would’ve been difficult for anything else to match.  It was so memorable, in fact, that I snapped a photo of it–something I rarely ever do with food–and have more recently attempted to duplicate it back home.  My girlfriend, who thoroughly enjoys cooking, happily accepted this challenge, and successfully concocted a pretty similar dish that brought back some pretty wonderful memories.  (She also made a great “salep” drink to go along with it…)

In all, there are really only two negative things either of us could really find with the cuisine in Turkey.  The first would be its lack of pork products, but such a thing should probably be expected when visiting a predominantly Muslim city.  We may not have even thought much of it at the time, but apparently our bodies must have been going through withdrawal, as we managed to consume some form of pork during each of our three meals on the first day after the scene shifted from Istanbul to Athens.

Otherwise, we were quite puzzled by the local popularity of a beverage known as Şalgam Suyu, which is essentially a briny turnip juice.  We tried it without knowing what it was made of, only to find that it was every bit as repulsive as you might expect a briny turnip juice to be.  But one major swing-and-miss along with a number of big hits still makes for a pretty strong dining experience overall.

 

The overwhelmingly positive dining experience in Istanbul eased my mind about the potential cuisine that might await us in Greece.  Admittedly, my negative impression of Greek food up to that point was predominantly based upon one bad experience in my childhood, so this was a golden opportunity to start looking at the cuisine in a much more positive light.  Perhaps it was really as simple as just ordering the right menu items and avoiding the wrong ones.

And indeed, that would prove to be the case in the end.  Aside from the aforementioned availability of pork in Greece, the cuisines of both countries were strikingly similar to one another.  For instance, baklava and ravani were both widely available in Greece–the former would have been expected, the latter not so much–and it was clear that both nations used some of the same spices to flavor many of their dishes.  Fish is a major staple food in both places.  As for the differences, lamb is arguably the meat of choice in Greek cuisine, and olive seems to be used in as many different ways as possible.

 

Given my apprehension toward the unfamiliar cuisine that both countries would offer, it would have been easy for me to seek out the nearest McDonald’s or Subway whenever possible, but I was determined not to cheat and go that route–with one exception.  I had specifically wanted to visit one such chain restaurant in each country, but only to see how different the menu would be, with the objective of ordering a unique item that would not be available in the States.  To that end, the Burger King we went to in Athens actually proved a little disappointing, as its menu was mostly a downsized version of what you might find at a location near you.  The McDonald’s in Istanbul, however, delivered by offering a “shrimp burger,” which essentially replaced the standard hamburger with a patty made of shrimp meat and featured a spicy cocktail sauce.  It wasn’t fantastic, but it wasn’t bad either, and most importantly, it was certifiably unique.

What I ultimately learned after a week in each country was that Turkish food was, in my opinion, better overall than Greek cuisine, but both had a lot of quality items to offer.  In both places, eating my way through the week proved to be a far easier and more positive experience than I would’ve expected, and both cuisines remain well within my range of possibilities to this day when considering dining options.  In fact, I’ve since found myself choosing foreign cuisines with much greater regularity in general, such as uncovering a surprising enthusiasm for Indian food.  Much of that can be traced directly back to those two weeks in Eastern Europe.  And that was but one of the ways in which the trip would prove to be a transformative life experience.

One Journey Ends, Another Begins

My trek to the other side of the world got off to a somewhat rocky start.

Between flight time and downtime in between flights, it was going to take somewhere around 30 hours to get from Las Vegas to Istanbul.  I was meeting my cousin Keith in Chicago, but had a layover in Dallas first.  From the Windy City, we would then take a long transatlantic flight to Frankfurt, Germany (the apparent pit stop of Europe), and finally end with a direct flight from there to Istanbul.

Presumably, the long flight “across the pond” was my chance get some sleep during this prolonged journey, but instead, I was reminded that such plans don’t always work so well.  While I was certainly tired by then, I was never able to get comfortable enough to actually fall asleep during that flight.

To make matters worse, my insides started acting up midway through the flight, and I hadn’t thought to bring an appropriate remedy along with me.  It was going to be a very long and uncomfortable several hours en route to Frankfurt.  Thankfully, though, Keith had planned for such occurrences and provided me a pill to settle my insides down.  I had known that I’d be relying upon his expertise in world travel during this trip, but didn’t realize I’d need such help well before ever landing on foreign soil.

We arrived in Frankfurt during the wee hours of the morning in local time, and after walking through what seemed like the entirety of the airport terminal, we reached our next gate and awaited the connecting flight.  As it turned out, the final flight was blissfully empty, allowing me to lay down across all three of the seats in my aisle.  At long last, I had achieved a comfortable enough position to drift into a long-overdue nap, if only for a couple hours.

 

I awoke shortly before the flight touched down, still groggy but at least somewhat refreshed.  Both of us were very much looking forward to checking into our hotel and getting some more sleep before really beginning our exploration of the city, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen quite yet.  We’d still need to pass through customs, exchange currencies, find the correct metro train, ride it a good distance from the airport to the vicinity of where we were staying, and then check into the hotel and settle into the room a bit.

All of these things would need to be done while lugging a stuffed duffel bag and a filled laptop case.  The duffel bag was filled with as many clothing items, toiletries, and other supplies as possible, while still qualifying as an acceptable piece of carry-on luggage.  Considering the sheer number of flights involved in the trip, bringing along any checked bags seemed like a nightmare waiting to happen.  Carrying everything on my shoulders in a duffel bag, however uncomfortable it might prove to be at times, felt like a far better option.

On the ground, the first step was to board a shuttle that would take us to customs and then proceed through its line.  It was here that I would finally receive the first ever destination stamp on my passport: Turkey.  Continuing on through the airport, we quickly realized that there were numerous banks offering currency exchanges, such that we were able to shop around to look for one with a better rate.  Done.  Next, we’d find a vending machine from which to purchase metro fare, which turned out to be a surprising source of amusement upon seeing the tokens used.  We might have expected some sort of metal coin, but instead received some red plastic tokens that seemed more suitable for use in a video arcade.  A bit odd for a major city’s main method of public transportation.

Thus it was time to leave Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and head out on the metro toward our hotel.  It was a long and rather crowded ride, and needless to say, we didn’t quite blend in perfectly with the crowd of people riding the train, though somehow, we didn’t seem to attract much attention either.  Anyone observing could’ve correctly pegged us as tourists just by looking at us, even before taking notice of all the gear we were toting along.  But the pleasant surprise was that no one seemed to care.  Perhaps I’d been expecting to receive at least a few unwelcoming glares from the locals suggesting that I didn’t belong there, but there would be nothing of that sort.

In fact, between navigating our way through the airport and riding the metro toward our hotel room, what truly shocked me the most was how incredibly…ordinary everything was.  Sure, neither of us spoke Turkish, but we really didn’t have any difficulty using signage to lead us, nor did we feel like fish out of water or foreigners in hostile territory.  Within about the first two hours of being there, in fact, things felt shockingly normal–almost as though I’d traveled to say, Philadelphia, as opposed to the far more distant destination where we actually were.  Maybe the single biggest reminder that we were actually in a foreign place was simply the amount of time it took us to get there.

 

But there was still one more item of business left, which turned out to be the most challenging part of the arrival–reaching our hotel room.  Since we didn’t figure to spend much of our time in the room anyway, we chose to go the college student travel route and stay in a hostel.  We’d still have our own private room, but would be using a shared bathroom with the rest of the floor.  It was a small sacrifice that we were more than willing to accept given both the price and convenient location of the place–once we could find it, that is.

We had taken great precaution to make sure we departed the train at the correct metro stop, but from there, the directions were a bit muddled.  GPS suggested that we were close, but after walking around a good chunk of the area, we still couldn’t find our hostel.  This wouldn’t be such a terrible thing normally, but we were already tired from the long trek, and our bags were only getting heavier with each extra step.

Our directions had suggested taking a side street that was, as it turned out, completely torn up and closed down under construction.  We had initially bypassed the street, thinking there had to be some sort of mistake in the directions, but eventually found our way back to it.  This time, we tried trudging through the torn-up road for a block or so, and finally found the little street we needed, with our hostel just a short walk away.  It was hidden away quite nicely from the main street–a little too well, really–but that no longer mattered.  We had found it, once and for all.

True to form, we checked in, lugged our stuff upstairs to the room, and passed out on the bed shortly thereafter.  Istanbul was ready and waiting to be discovered, and we were nearly ready to begin our exploration…but not before one peaceful nap that would officially end one journey and begin the next.