Turkey, week four

Our fourth and final week in Turkey began with the arrival of friends from Switzerland, Franziska and Carl. Their glee at every experience buoyed us all as we explored the back streets of Istanbul.

Carl, me, and Jerry on our apartment balcony (photo by Franziska):

While they explored Sultanahmet on their first day, Jerry and I headed up to my publisher’s office near Istiklal, wandered through the sumptuous Pera Palas Hotel (where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express), took in the Pera Museum’s exhibit of Manolo Valdez, then indulged in an Efes and French fries at the Tavanarası, a funky rooftop cafe.

The Pera Palas bar and lounge—not too shabby:

An Efes break at the Tavanarası Restaurant:

The next day we explored the Bazaar Quarter with Carl and Franziska, skipping along through workshops and hans, which they loved. We found a few great deals on “scarf street,” of course finishing with adult beverages on the balcony before finding a new spot for dinner.

Roses in bloom at the Çuhacı Han

Morning tea with Carl and Franzisca in the Çuhacı Han:

We stopped into Kaya Demirci’s jewelry shop, where he was setting diamonds into this necklace (on a wax form):

A bouquet of silk scarves flutter in the breeze:

We covered the food bases well, indulging in meals from kebabs to kumpir (baked potatoes with butter and grated cheese mashed in, then piled with numerous toppings).

Jerry’s favorite döner, spiced lamb sliced off a huge skewered roast:

Kumpir, the mashed potato treat!

They also enjoyed our rooftop drama—a family of seagulls across from our apartment. The three remaining fledgelings (we lost one last week) have grown by leaps and bounds in two weeks, and it’s been fascinating to see the devoted parents chase away hungry blackbirds and gulls and take turns bringing food for their famished babies (regurgitating tiny fish for them). As Jerry put it, “I’ve developed a new respect for seagulls after seeing how hard they work.”

Mama and her hungry babes:

Finishing their stay with a Bosphorus cruise and another meal of mezes and lamb, Carl and Franziska assured us they’d come back to Istanbul. Their taste of the city has whetted their palates for new adventures.

Flower sellers near the Kadiköy pier:

After waving them off, we headed over to the Asian side to rent bikes for a trek along the Marmara. Getting there was a comedy of errors (the new Metro delivered us a few miles up from our destination), but we finally found our bike shop and headed off on wheels. Istanbul has little green space, so they’ve reclaimed a wide swath of sea to create parkland all along the Sea of Marmara. We biked an hour (about 10 miles), weaving between pedestrians who ignored the bike path signs. Turks are wonderful, but they’re not big on following rules. Jerry was reluctant to stop, but was snoring shortly after we settled on a park bench. Oh, to fall asleep so effortlessly!

Jerry recovers mid-ride:

The trek back was harder (into the wind), and we were worn out by the time we returned to Bostancı. With a few hours before our scheduled meeting with my friend Söner, we found a seaside restaurant that served beer and French fries, our new favorite snack. Söner arrived to share another beer with us, then drove us to Kadiköy and walked us through Moda, Kadiköy’s charming upscale community of beautiful homes, shaded cobbled streets, and sea views. We had dinner in a bustling Kadiköy street cafe/night club while a Beşiktaş soccer game blasted from screens dotting the street’s many cafes.

Me and my friend Söner in Moda:

On our ferry ride back to the European side I noticed brilliant lights near Beşiktaş—a bustling Bosphorus community. “It must be a home game,” I commented, interested, but not excited, as Beşiktaş isn’t one of the city’s top teams. We stepped off the ferry to fireworks exploding over the Golden Horn. “They must have won.”
Little did I know how that win would affect us. We joined a throng to await the tram for our Sultanahmet apartment, realizing there was little chance for a seat in spite of our tired legs. The first tram was packed solid with white-and-black garbed Beşiktaş fans, singing at the top of their lungs and pounding on the windows and doors. The doors opened, but there was no way another body could possibly squeeze in. Not only were there fans, but many carried seats they’d pulled from the stadium and grass they’d cut from the field. Oh, my!
“Maybe we should get a taxi,” I suggested.
“Let’s try one more,” Jerry responded. Exhausted from a day of exercise, the thought of walking to find a free taxi was far from enticing. Another tram pulled up, just as noisy and crowded as the last. The doors opened and the fans “manning the doors” grabbed us and pulled us in, laughing. I have to admit, it was fun to merge with these soccer maniacs. One had stolen a huge fire extinguisher (on wheels), which stood by the door with a white plastic seat and a square of sod sitting atop. Three times the driver stopped the tram tram and asked the revelers to settle down. After a hearty cheer, the chaos would abate and he’d continue. The noise would gradually rise until he had to stop again.

Wild Beşiktaş fans pause to pose on the tram:

Soccer mania is a mystery to me—mob behavior at best. I later learned that this was the last game to be played in the İnönü stadium tearing it down.
On Mother’s Day we met my friend Alison for a stroll through Balat, an area I’d never explored. Once a hillside Greek community, it was abandoned during the population exchange when all area Christians were deported to Greece (and Greek Muslims moved to Turkey).

St. Stephen’s Bulgarian Church steeple:

Ataturk’s intent was to create a more cohesive Turkey by making it all Muslim, but it was a painful time for those uprooted from their homes. In addition to scores of fascinating houses, we saw many people in traditional dress, as this has become a fundamentalist community of both Muslims and Jews. We saw men with şalvar (loose-fitting pants), turbans and flowing coats, and many women were garbed in head-to-toe black.

Balat residents buy their morning poacı (bread) from a street vendor:

Two young men in turbans and flowing robes:

We were amused at a common practice of letting children sit inside window grates for fresh air—sort of a window/playpen approach to supervised play.

These little dollies were tickled to be photographed:

Sunday morning laundry in Balat:

We happened upon an ancient Christian Church (1292), now the Fetiye Mosque and Christian museum, then later stumbled on an Orthodox Greek Church holding a christening ceremony. Wonders never cease. We finished our tour with lunch at the Zeyrekhane, a fabulous terrace restaurant perched high above the Golden Horn.
Two days left—and we spent one evening with our friends Mark and Jolee, Americans who’ve lived in Istanbul for the past six years. We’d had them for dinner the previous week, and they returned the favor with a walking tour of their Çıhangır neighborhood and a sumptuous dinner. Jolee made a few mezes, the crowning glory of which is a traditional dish of a fresh artichoke heart covered with diced potatoes, carrots, and peas and drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and dill. Oh, yum!

Jolee’s Zeytinyağı Enginar and other mezes:

Of course, the delicate grilled lamb chops were beyond compare. Mark and Jolee are fascinating, interesting ex-pats and great fun to boot! More good times ahead…
We spent our last evening with Dana and Matt, friends who I met through my sojourn in Ethiopia (Matt volunteered with me at the orphanage). They were on their way back from Addis Ababa, where they are adopting a 9-month-old boy.
We’ve hugged our friend Musa goodbye (my kilim designer friend who rented us his apartment) and caught what sleep we could before our taxi arrived at 3 AM. Back to life and adventures in Minnesota, where we hear our seemingly endless winter may have finally abated.

A Turkish Cat House (Kedi evi) provided by the city government for strays:

Bangin’ around Istanbul


Ah, leisure! Well, relative leisure anyway. Jerry and I have bid all our tour buddies goodbye and are basking in the quiet of a Sultanahmet apartment. My friend Musa Başaran, kilim designer extraordinaire, owns a six-story building just blocks from the Blue Mosque, and we’ve taken one of his apartments for our last two weeks here. We enjoy a view of the lovely Sokullu Paşa Mosque, the Sea of Marmara, and a family of fledgling seagulls on a roof below our balcony.

Musa’s kilims:

The Sokullu Paşa Mosque from our balcony:

For the first few nights after our tour we checked into the Turkoman Hotel, where we were met by their scruffy dog, Fluffy (I know—hardly an apt Turkish dog name, but what can one do?) and their volunteer cat, Arsız (which means shameless—a fitting moniker). In fact, while we were settling into our room, Arsız wandered in and curled up on our sun-soaked rug. Minutes later she’d settled up on the bed. Shameless. Though I’m allergic to cats, I tolerated it for a whopping ten minutes while Jerry gave her the requisite portion of petting and stroking.

The shameless Arsız makes herself at home:

The terrace breakfast room at the Turkoman overlooks the Blue Mosque, a heart-stopping view that enticed us to linger long over a last cup of coffee—filtered coffee, no less. I hope the days of Nescafe are behind me.

Our breakfast buddy on the Turkoman terrace:

May 1st is Labor Day across the world, a day that has often grown violent in Istanbul. We escaped the city with five of our friends by ferrying across the Marmara to Termal at Yalova, a mountain spa community that I adore. We soaked in the hot tub, scrubbed in the 500-year-old hamam (Turkish bath), sweated in the sauna, then shocked our systems with a plunge into an icy tub beside the sauna. Then we all moved outdoors to the olympic-sized outdoor pool, naturally heated from hot-springs pumped into the water. We swam and basked the afternoon away, finishing with a soft drink and a walk along the river.

Sparkling clean outside the hamam—me, Nancy, Judy, Glen, Bob, and Eddie. (Photo by Jerry)

We all reveled in the park-like atmosphere, the hot-spring eye-cleaning station and the lung-clearing steam breather. If nothing else, it soothes the soul to be in such a pristine, peaceful environment. Ataturk (the Father of Turkey) took the cure at this spa on a regular basis.

An olive stand in the Yalova street Market:

That evening we returned to find the Hippodrome chock full of sticker-covered cars—what??? A little research revealed that it was the Allgau-Orient Rallye, an event of 113 cars trekking back roads from Allgau, Germany, to Aman, Jordan, over the course of three weeks.

Rally cars lined up near the Blue Mosque:


Drivers both young and old spent two nights in Istanbul, many sleeping in their vehicles. One couple slept in a tent on their car roof—amazing!

Rooftop accommodations, sleep at your own peril!

Beer played a large part in the event as well. Heck, they’re Germans. Along the way the drivers earned points for a series of specific tasks like taking a photo of someone milking a cow in Germany, of a ferry crossing the Marmara, or of Turks drinking beer in Istanbul. The winner of the competition would win a camel, which they would, of course, have to leave in Jordan. The drivers would fly home, leaving their cars behind to be sold for a charity. What a blast! If you’re curious, check out the videos on http://www.allgaeu-orient.de/
The next day Jerry, Nancy Daley and I hiked to the Süleymaniye Mosque, which has been closed for renovation for the past five years. It was lovely to see this masterpiece in its full glory, all scrubbed and shiny.

Spring Irises bedeck tombs in the Süleymaniye cemetery:

The Stunning Süleymaniye Mosque:

After numerous contortions to take photos in the sanctuary, I emerged to realize I’d lost my prescription sunglasses. I took off my shoes and donned a scarf again to go in and hunt for them, but they were nowhere to be found. I reminded myself that if you lose things in Turkey you get them back and approached a guard outside. “Güneş gözlüğüm kaybettim,” I said (something like ‘I lost my sunglasses’). The guard held up his finger, reached behind a counter, and pulled them out. Thank goodness someone had turned them in. Whew!

The amazing city view from the Süleymaniye courtyard:

On the walk home Nancy treated us to döner, a delicious meat sandwich similar to a Greek gyro. YUM! That afternoon Jerry and I moved into our apartment at Musa’s then collapsed. I’m not a big napper, but I was out for over an hour. Heaven.
The next morning we met Sally and Judy (more friends from the tour) for a trip to the Marpuççular (bead) Han and a tour of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque.

Rüstem Paşa  has some of the finest hand-painted tiles in Turkey:

Sally emerges from the Men’s Room (When ya gotta go…)

That was the last of our time with friends from home—they left the next morning.
Saturday Jerry and I hopped a ferry to Burgazada to visit my friend Sandra. Burgazada is one of the Prince’s Islands, a series of small islands off the coast of Istanbul, a peaceful oasis with no cars. Residents and visitors walk, bike, or hire horse carriages to get around the islands.

The Burgazada taxi stand:

We spent Saturday wandering the island with Sandra and finished with a sumptuous fish dinner at a seaside restaurant.

Jerry and I pose on stone stairs to nowhere down on a seaside pier

Sunday we ferried to the largest island, Büyükada, where we rented bikes and rode around the island. It may sound idyllic, but we began at great peril, sharing the road with scores of wobbly bicyclists and thundering horse carriages. Once we broke away from the hordes, though, we pedaled the coastline, enjoying views of the sea, the other islands, and Istanbul in the distance.

Well worth the bike ride!

We finished with a beer and French fries at a little outdoor restaurant, where we chatted with a delightful young couple, surgeons visiting from Ankara. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly the Turks are once you open to them.
It’s been a lovely week, and last night we welcomed friends from Switzerland to our little abode. Carl and Franziska are excited to be here, and we’re eager to share the many charms of Istanbul. The great dilemma is how to squeeze everything into three days. We’ll do our best.

On the water (Antalya) and in the air (Cappadocia)

Yet another week of adventures with friends in Turkey—oh, lucky me! Lucky us. We began week two in Antalya, one of my favorite cities. We arrived around noon at 7 Mehmet, a modern open-fronted restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean. Our guide Mehmet deemed it one of his favorite restaurants, and it was spectacular. The manager emerged with a tray of a dozen mezes (hors d’oeuvres) to choose from, then a massive tray of uncooked meats, ranging from spicy lamb kebobs to steaks to lamb shanks to chicken and fresh fish. Within minutes we had drinks, mezes and bread before us, and soon an array of luscious main courses arrived. Oh, my.

A Turkish meal begins with a variety of mezes:

Our guide, Mehmet, explains our meat options:

Everyone snaps a photo of the Antalya beach after lunch:

After desserts, tea, and coffee, we headed for the Antalya Museum, which holds treasures from the area’s many ruins, artfully displayed with thorough explanations in both Turkish and English. Since many of Turkey’s greatest treasures reside in Berlin and London, they’re quite proud to have finally acquired the top half of an important statue of Hercules. Mehmet explained that in 1980 it was discovered in two pieces in the ruins of ancient Perge, and its discoverers reburied it to gather equipment and retrieve it the next day. The returned to find that the top half of the statue had been stolen. It finally materialized in Boston, and lengthy negotiations finally brought it back to its home in Turkey. A life-sized statue, it’s a significant archeological find.

Hercules is once again whole and home in Antalya:


Chris stops for a shoe shine in Antalya’s old city:

Sunset over the Mediterranean:

We spent two glorious days exploring Antalya, deciding to forego another tour of ruins for a boat ride on the Mediterranean. Mehmet chartered a wooden sailboat, the highlight of the trip for many. We skimmed along the rocky coastline until we reached Düden Falls, where we anchored.

Düden Falls, Antalya:

Some of us dove into the sea, as warm as Minnesota’s inland lakes in July, though far saltier. It was fabulous. My 84-year-old friend Thelma swam with us, increasing the respect that everyone had already developed for her. Thelma’s my role model, enjoying every experience that comes her way. She didn’t balk at a thing on this trip—talk about living life to the fullest! Once we’d dried off and sipped a brew or two, we were treated to a lunch of fresh grilled fish, salad, and pasta. YUM!!!

Sally presents her fresh grilled lunch:

After an afternoon wandering the old city, my young friend Aşkin joined us for dinner. We’ve been friends since 2005, and he calls me “My Sweetie Teacher.” Aşkin has moved to Antalya to help engineer a 30-million-dollar yacht with a heliport on the deck. Man, oh man. Some people live mighty high, I guess. Turkey is proud to be producing yachts on the level of Hamburg, Germany. Its economy is healthy and growing, partly because it’s a progressive and innovative country and partly because it’s a young country. 60% of its population is under 45.

A pesky pelican gets shooed from a roadside shop on our way to Konya:

Female friends garbed for the mosque at Konya:

On our way up to Cappadocia we stopped at Konya, where we toured the Selimiye Mosque and the Mevlana Museum, the center of Sufi mysticism founded by the famous poet, Rumi. We’re most familiar with the whirling dervishes of this movement, which was totally fascinating.

The museum was filled with tableaux of Sufi life:

These are seven principles of Mevlana:

1. In generosity and helping others, be like a river.
2. In compassion and grace, be like the sun.
3. In concealing others’ faults, be like the night.
4. In angry and fury, be like the dead.
5. In modesty and humility, be like the earth.
6. In tolerance, be like the sea.
7. Either exist as you are, or be as you look.

How could anyone dispute this wisdom from Rumi, the 13th century poet sage?

Our next destination was Cappadocia, the land of bizarre rock formations and cave homes. It broke my heart to stay in a bland, massive hotel rather than the charming Kelebek in Göreme, but that’s one of the trade-offs for traveling in a large group. Though the Dinler Hotel was disappointing, their food was the best of all the hotels we stayed in. Sadly, though, we were all so stuffed from ten days on the road that we could hardly take full advantage.

Our shadows cavort on a sunset rock formation:

A camel poses for photos at a roadside stop:

Yet another amazing formation:

Eleven of us opted for the expensive but mind-boggling balloon ride over the area. We paid $220 each for the experience of a lifetime, sharing a wicker basket with friends as our driver navigated our balloon over the ripples and fairy chimneys of Göreme, the Pigeon Valley, and the Rose Valley. It was beyond stunning.
Muriel, Susie, Chris, Eddie, and Lynette prepare for take off–

Looking down on the bizarre landscape (and an inflating balloon)

Our pilot communicated by walkie-talkie with his ground crew, who followed along beneath us to position for our landing. Unfortunately, they got the trailer stuck on a steep roadside incline and had to unhook their truck and tow it out from the other side. We hovered happily until they extricated themselves and tore off to another field, where we landed directly on the trailer. A few of us were carried from the basket to the ground, and Lynette, our youngest, was carried across the field to a card table table, where we were treated to champagne and presented with heavy gold medals, proof of our unforgettable experience.

That night my friend Ali (a Göreme carpet dealer) brought five of us to a cave night club for live music and dancing. It was an absolute blast; the Turks welcomed us warmly with smiles and encouragement as we danced, and they went nuts over Jerry, who dances with enthused abandon. The only foreigners there, we joined hands with the Turks for the halay, a traditional Turkish dance. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a night out so much. And Susie got her dancing fix, an absolute necessity at home and away.

Dancin’ in the cave bar (photo by Ali)

The next day we visited an underground city and a number of extraordinary rock formations, then hopped on a plane for Istanbul, completing our circle tour of Turkey.

We finished with a Bosphorus cruise, a lovely fish lunch in the quaint waterside community of Beylerbeyi, and a visit to the Grand Bazaar.

The Bosphorus’ Rumile Castle was built  in 1453 by the Ottomans to conquer Constantinople.

We celebrated with a final meal at the Taş Han’s Arkat Night Club, located in its underground cistern. The highlight of their floor show was a belly dancing lesson for two of our members, Muriel Thompson and Bob Hertzberger. It just doesn’t get better.

Muriel and Bob have a go at belly dancing:

I never dreamed that a group of 20 friends could make for such an interesting tour. We all enjoyed it, and even our tour guide felt the camaraderie of this bright, interested, and positive group. As I said earlier, lucky us!

Half of us are extending our trip to enjoy Istanbul. And enjoy it we will.