Istanbul in full bloom

At the risk of redundancy, I must share more of my floral enthusiasm. Last Sunday some friends and I walked up to Emirgan Park (my third trip), and we were totally WOWED by the displays. Tulipmania abounds in Istanbul.

After a two-hour walk along the Bosphorus (with a welcome stop for tea and treats), we wended our way through the tea gardens of Emirgan up to the south end of the park. Coming in the side entrance wasn’t all that spectacular, but it made for a much more gradual hike up to the summit. After passing well-peopled playgrounds and picnic areas, we found the tulips. Tulips, tulips, tulips.


They were everywhere, hillside after hillside planted in spectacular arrangements—blossoms of every shape and hue. Gorgeous! Music drew us up even higher—live music. Hooray! Much to our amazement, we emerged on a huge plaza replete with 7-foot tulip sculptures, each painted a unique design by its own Turkish artist. Too fun!




As we wandered through the tulip forest, Libby was deluged by admirers. Children were mesmerized by her, each tentatively reaching to pet her soft fur. Few Turkish people have indoor pets, though street dogs and cats are well cared for by the country’s many animal lovers. Consequently most children find dogs both frightening and fascinating. It wasn’t long before Libby and I were surrounded by children (and their parents), all asking her name, whether she bites, how old she is, etc., etc., etc. At one point Libby looked a bit panicked, but she managed to maintain her company manners. (She loves children.)


One little girl shadowed us for nearly a half hour. Four-year-old Elif was quite taken with Libby, and her father explained to me that his wife is “very clean and doesn’t want a pet in the house.” He and his daughter obviously love animals, and it was clear that Libby was the highlight of Elif’s park visit. (My Turkish has improved to the point that I can actually carry on a limited conversation. Surprise.)



We sat to listen to the music, soft Turkish rock. The sun beamed down as children played, adults sipped tea, and we all reveled in the magic of this lovely afternoon. It continues to strike me how very much people are alike across the globe—this could have been anywhere.



The drawback of having Libby with us was that we couldn’t sit in one of the park’s shaded outdoor restaurants to indulge in French fries—no dogs allowed. Hmphhhh! Oh, well. We walked down to another music venue and found another snack line. Unfortunately, it was about a mile long. We opted for cheese gözleme (like crepes or lefse fried with cheese inside) from vendors outside the park.


Trees, too, are in bloom, both in the park and on campus. I don’t have the names of all of them, but everyone’s favorite is the Joshua tree, with branches clad in brilliant pink blossoms. There’s also a tree with pale pink carnation-like blossoms, and another with elegant blooms whose fuschia petals reach skyward like fingers, revealing their light-colored insides. I have no idea what it is, but it’s gorgeous.


On campus we have a lavender-blossomed tree called a Pavlovya tree. (Definitely a tree to salivate over.) Last but not least is the wisteria, which is in its full glory this week—huge purple clusters that look a bit like grapes drooping across entrances and draping from trees.

Flowers, flowers, everywhere—Istanbul is in its full glory!

Ah, Kapadokya!

Ah, Kapadokya! (Capadoccia) It was a glorious five days, although the sunshine was intermittent and we were a bit short on sweaters. I trekked there with three friends from the States: Sue Nordman (her fourth trip to Turkey), Annie DeBevec (second trip), and Annie’s daughter Jess (first trip). After exploring Istanbul for a few days, we headed to Cappadocia’s lovely Kelebek Hotel, with rooms renovated from original cave dwellings—amazing. Our suite even had a Jacuzzi bath, though using it meant a totally doused bathroom. Oh, well.

We stayed more than busy, mostly hiking and eating, with a bit of shopping sprinkled in. Jess and Susie came home with gorgeous rugs, both beaming after their purchases at Sultan’s Carpets, owned by everyone’s friend Mehmet.
Mehmet, our favorite rug dealer, displays his wares

Our first day we took a tour of the area, a geological wonder. Water and wind have carved amazing limestone and basalt formations of nearly every size and shape into a maze of valleys. We visited an underground city built by Christians for protection from invading armies of Romans and Muslims. Meandering through tiny passageways down about four stories, we were told that it went down many levels further—unbelievable! We saw underground stables, kitchens, sleeping rooms, and wineries—everything a community might need for months spent underground.


Susie, Annie, me, Ali, and Jess rest our weary legs in the underground city

After that we stopped for a delectable meal of soup, bread, and a traditional lamb stew slow-cooked in pottery (which was cracked open to serve). YUM! Afterwards we visited a ceramics factory, then explored two more sites with a variety of rock formations.


Sun shines over the amazing natural sculptures of Cappadocia


A Cappadocia fairy chimney

We finished our day with a hike down through the Rose Valley, named for the rose-colored stone along its rim. It felt a bit like the Grand Canyon, only smaller. Our guide, Ali, showed us the numerous cave homes and hermitages carved into its rock formations. The hike was challenging—a welcome change from walking Istanbul’s streets. That night Annie and Jess succumbed to exhausted sleep while Susie and I went dancing.


The little niches are pigeon roosts, used to collect droppings for fertilizer.

The next day we wandered Göreme, shopping, eating, and getting haircuts—serious haircuts. Sue and I came away feeling a bit like guys, but it’ll grow back. Later that afternoon we explored a valley behind our hotel, discovering chapels, rooms, and more hermitages. Though we had resisted using the word “phallic” on the previous day’s tour, it finally emerged. It was inevitable, I guess. We gradually climbed nearly to the rim of the valley, and we had a bit of a harrowing trek back down. We made it, though, laughing all the way.

Exploring among fairy chimneys behind our hotel

On Wednesday we opted for another hike—this time along the Ihlara Valley, again with our friend Ali. The Ihlara Valley was quite different from what we’d seen, with a picturesque stream running along our 7-kilometer hike. Ali led us up rocky precipices to hidden churches and hermitages we’d have never discovered on our own. I tried to envision it hundreds of years ago when it was bustling with activity.


Remains of an ancient cathedral in the Ilara Valley

Near the end of our hike we ran into villagers gathering wood and working in small garden plots before we happened upon a lovely river’s-edge restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious meal in the welcoming sunshine.


A hard-working woman we met along the Ilara Valley

We finished the day with a tour of Selime Kalesi a high maze of carved-out rooms and chapels that date back 1200 years (This castle monastery may be the largest religious structure in Cappadocia). I’m sure many died from slipping off the precipices that surround this amazing castle carved into the mountaintop. It was a bit scary at times.


Climbing up into the Selime Kalesi, a mountaintop monastery.

The rain just started as we headed home for a glass of wine with some Koç School friends in the hotel’s cozy lobby.

On our last night we took in a Turkish Night extravaganza, a bit fearful of mediocre food and entertainment. We were the first to arrive, four women alone in the huge dining hall, even more uncertain of what lay ahead. We decided to make the best of it. Well, we were thrilled to discover that the food was fabulous and the entertainment even finer. We saw an abbreviated Mevlana Ceremony (whirling dervish), a belly dancer, and a phenomenal troupe of folk dancers (probably five or six different performances, each with more amazing costumes and spectacular footwork.) We could barely keep up with our meal, which was served course by course throughout the evening. Afterwards, we danced well into the wee hours. Lucky us!

I DO love Turkey, and what joy to share it with friends.


Three happy campers on the Kybele terrace: me, Annie, and Susie. Such larks!

Such a different kind of spring…

As my friends back in Minnesota shovel yet another few inches of snow off their decks, I marvel at each new blossom on the Robert College Campus. Today we had a fire drill—remember them from your school days? Well, they’ve always been a part of my life. The entire school filed (relatively quietly) out to a small outdoor arena where attendance was taken, we were told it wasn’t a drill after all (Hmmm…today was April Fool’s Day), and we were excused to return to the building. At any rate, on my way back up to the school, I passed a tree covered in huge, lavender trumpet-shaped blossoms, each a few inches long. It was gorgeous—something I’ve never seen. A number of the trees here blossom before any leaves emerge, and the result is spectacular, particularly to one unaccustomed to leaves until the first of June!


Just outside my window is a tree lined with yellow blossoms (though this one has leaves), and on the other side of the building is a bush garbed in brilliant red blooms. Nearly every plant seems to have some kind of bud or blossom. In Minnesota I’d know the names of them all, but here I just marvel. Even the budding leaves here fascinate me—so different! (One pesky plant is familiar—bedstraw, better known to me as Velcro plant—which clings to Libby’s fur every time she ventures off the path. ARAUGHHH!!!!)






As I wander with my camera, Libby’s mission is the campus cats, most of whom know her too well. A little black cat escaped into a tree the other day; chalk one up for Libby. Reportedly our campus hosts seventy cats (mostly strays), nearly equal to the population of on-campus staff. No stray dogs, though—only pets. We even have a cat committee, pledged to catch and neuter every last one. Seems a monumental task, especially as I hear the Tomcats’ lustful yowls at night.


I hear something else at night here, too: the melodic strains of a songbird. Could it be a nightengale? That, too, is a new experience for me, a warm welcome as I wearily climb the long hill to my apartment after a night on the town.

One last note—another sign of spring in Istanbul. While walking with friends near Taksim, we saw a huge crowd of people (mostly men) standing on an overpass. Fishing? Emergency? Accident? Nope. It was the uphill soccer fan crowd, enjoying free nosebleed spots above the stadium—standing room only. There were even police to control the crowd of hundreds. Too funny!


We bypassed the cheering soccer crowds to visit the Pera Museum, where we browsed through a fascinating exhibit of the works of Czech photographer Josef Koudelka. Our tour finished with a flourish: a goodly gawk at The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey. One of my favorite paintings, it was purchased four years ago by the Koç family for $3,500,000 (certainly the most valuable Turkish painting). I’ve read that it depicts Hamdi Bey’s frustration with Ottoman leaders of his time, intimating that they were as difficult to change (westernize) as training tortoises with a flute (turtles can’t hear, you know, and their hard shells protect them from prodding).


Osman Hamdi Bey was not only a gifted painter, but he was also an intellectual who organized numerous archeological digs in Anatolia (later Turkey) and founded the Istanbul Archeological Museum. Pretty impressive (in spite of the leaders who thwarted his efforts).

We ran into a few friends at the Pera and trekked off together for wine and a light meal in a quaint rooftop café a few blocks away. It was a good day. A great day.