Burgazada: a sleepy island get-away

After a whirlwind tour of Turkey, I was able to sleep in on Thursday morning. My friend Jini and I bumped our heavy suitcases down the spiral staircase of Istanbul’s sweet Kybele Otel, dragged them to the tram stop, and headed to the Eminönü pier to find the station for our one-hour ferry to the Princes Islands—Adalar.Ada” is Turkish for island, and -lar is the plural form. (Just sayin’.)

Oh, how I love the Istanbul ferries!

My friends Mark and Jolee Zola generously offered their apartment to us for the week, and I’d texted their friend Hamit about our arrival. No response. My fingers were crossed that he’d be there to meet us, since I had only sketchy directions to the apartment—and no key.

We were met on the pier by a gray-haired man with a Cheshire grin. Hamit greeted us warmly and led us to his little red electric cart. There was room either for our luggage or for one of us—an easy decision. He piled our suitcases onto his back seat and drove slowly enough for us to follow him up the steep hill to the Zola apartment, which took our breath away (in more ways than one).

Hamit saved the day! That’s our luggage in his back seat.

The hike was a steep one, and the place was bright, spacious, and filled with lovely Turkish carpets and pictures. Home for a week, with an airy terrace and garden to boot.

Burgazada is a sleepy little island of about two square miles with a population of about 1200, which swells to ten times that in the summer. The island is like the top of a mountain, covered with trees except for the north side, which faces the big city. It’s odd to stand in silence among the trees and face a view of thousands of concrete buildings across the water (4 miles away).

Jini revels in the joys of nature with a bustling Istanbul in the distance.

Burgazada features picturesque Ottoman houses interspersed with 2 to 5-story apartment buildings climbing the hill above the water.

A matched pair of Ottoman houses, one refurbished and one needing some love.

There’s also a Greek Orthodox Church at our end of the town and a mosque at the other end.

The dome of the Greek Orthodox church just below our apartment.

There are also cats, which are both fed and hated by the locals. Yesterday one scratched a hole in our terrace screen (the little bastard).

 

This cat-sized hole is reminiscent of our red squirrel screen holes in Minnesota, only bigger.

Could this have been the culprit?

No cars are allowed on the islands (except for fire trucks and government vehicles), but the horse carriages of yesteryear have been replaced by a bevy of small electric carts. Horses did all the hauling and transportation on the island the last time I was here (2013), but in past years concerned citizens have protested the misuse of horses, especially with the steep streets on the islands.

This tourist cart carries people to a little outdoor restaurant on the back of the island.

Apparently the life expectancy of an island horse is two years after being enlisted to pull a carriage, so the government ruled to end their use. A few horse carriages are still available for tourist use, especially on the weekends. There’s a little “taxi stand” down by the dock; a short ride within the town is 30 lira (about $5), and a full tour of the island is 100 lira.The downtown taxi stand on Burgazada on the weekend. During the week there are only a few carriages at the ready, but on the weekend there are plenty.

Long ago there were as many stray horses as cats on the island, but we’ve only spotted a few as we’ve wandered the island.

We came across this fellow browsing in a park down the road on our first day.

Friday morning we walked down to the weekly street market, where we made a killing on FABULOUS vegetables, fruits, and cheese—more than we’ve been able to consume, and for a mere $20. The ailing lira has been to our advantage, though it’s devastated the Turks. When I lived here the lira was about the same as a Canadian dollar, ranging between 70¢ and 80¢. Now a lira is worth a whopping 16¢. Turkey is in a severe recession since the attempted coup in 2016, and the lack of tourists has made it all the worse.

Jini attempts to communicate with Yaşar, a singing vendor at the market. Below a dopey video I took of him singing. I’m a little challenged with videography, as you can see. Yaşar was singing, “Tomato, avocado.”

We’ve hiked most of the island as well as Kınalıada, a smaller and sleepier island next door to this one. That, too, has a high peak in the middle, and we hiked over the top and around the side. Though it was only about a three-mile hike, it was grueling (and hot).

Here’s a view of the back side of Kınalıada, just beyond a deserted beach area. I expect it will be busy come June.

We’d brought a picnic lunch, and we stopped to buy some icy water after we reached the peak for the second time (on our way back). When we got back down to the city side, we pulled off our shoes to cool our throbbing feet in the sea, which felt like Lake Superior in the summer. Cold.

Jini dries her feet after their frigid plunge into the Marmara. Pebble beach, like Lake Superior.

Saturday night my friend Julide (Julie Day) came out to the island, suggesting we attend a spring festival on the next island of Heybiliada: the Hıdır Ellez. Jini was coming down with a cold, so Julide and I went alone to enjoy a beer and mezes followed by an evening of music, dancing, singing, and watching other celebrants jump over the bonfire. My goodness! Sadly, the last ferry left at 8:45, which made our night a short one.

Julide and I pose with a woman we’d met while dancing. We’re squatting as a part of the festivities.
After dark there were scores of people jumping over this bonfire right on the street.

I also took Jini to tour Robert College, which impressed her immensely. It’s a stunning park-like campus, and I was tickled to chat with former teaching compatriots Cyrus, Jamison, Jake, Myra, and Alison. Cyrus showed us some major improvements to the campus, which was already gorgeous. When I mention to Turks that I taught at Robert College, eyebrows are raised. 

Gould Hall, on the Robert College campus
Robert College now has this bright, open cafeteria instead of the old basement one.

We finished our tour with a mile walk to Ortaköy, where we visited the newly-refurbished Ortaköy Mosque. Because it was the first day of Ramazan, we had to wait until the noon prayer was over then were allowed in. The main part of the mosque is alight from both windows and stunning chandeliers—only for the men. The women’s room is dull and unexciting. What does that say?

Here’s where the men pray…
…and the women at least get a few windows.

We also indulged in kumpir, the local baked potato mashed with butter and cheese, then topped with an array of items like corn, sausage, olives, pickles, mushrooms, tapenade, and other delicious items. I’ve never finished one before, but I cleaned that one right up. My belly felt like after a Thanksgiving dinner, but oh, well. It was delicious.

Jini gleefully accepts her kumpir, a baked potato with all the fixings.
Here’s a close-up of my kumpir.

So ends this sojourn. I have a 4:15 AM flight, and I plan to catch the midnight bus from Sultanahmet to the New Istanbul Airport. Rumor has it that Erdoğan built this airport because he wants to abolish any references to Ataturk, his nemesis. The older (very adequate) airport is called Ataturk. That’s a $12 billion expense to erase an old foe. Hmmm…

Supposedly this will be the largest airport in the world once it’s finished. People are up in arms over the expense, especially after he spent over a billion dollars on his 1000+ room presidential palace. The heck with the unemployed.

Well, I still love this country. Farewell, Turkey…until next time.

Last days in Istanbul—for now…

We had three more days in Istanbul, and our arrival was daunting, at best. Our driver, Sabahattin, performed valiantly, but the Sultanahmet traffic was chock-a-block. We spent nearly an hour to go three blocks. At least it felt like it. Five of us hopped off the bus about four blocks from our hotel so we could arrange rooms before luggage and other travelers arrived.

It’s faster to go on foot, even with a load.

We had less than half an hour to gussy up for an exclusive dinner Tom Olson had arranged. And oh—what a dinner! We weary travelers looked pretty classy for our trip to the Mikla Restaurant, rated #38 of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Yup, the world. It’s on top of the Marmara Pera Hotel near Taksim and absolutely fabulous. We started with a quick peek into the nearby Pera Palas, a Neo-classical hotel that dates back to the 19th century. We oohed and ahhed at its fabulous decor: heavy draperies, glittering chandeliers, and ornate carved wood. Ataturk stayed there, as did Agatha Christie when she wrote Murder on the Orient Express. It’s just been renovated, and it’s a masterpiece.

Susie, Marnie and Jane pose in front of the Pera Palas’ classic elevator.

We were early for dinner, so we imbibed in a glass of wine before boarding an elevator for the top story. We were led through the restaurant to an open terrace overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Marmara Sea.

My dopey movie of the Bosphorus from the top of the Marmara Pera

If the view wasn’t enough to knock us off our feet, dinner was beyond compare. We were served numerous hors d’oeuvres like a whole-grain cracker topped with seasoned hummus and thinly-sliced radishes, and an anchovy baked onto a wafer-thin cracker with a heavenly sauce. Oh, and the bread—my goodness! Their whole grain bread was sumptuous and crusty with heavy olive oil for dipping.

Our radish hors d’oeuvre on hand-made whole grain cracker.

 

Anchovy filets baked onto a light pastry crust with a dipping sauce.

My first course was a 6-inch prawn served with seasoned seaweed, a tart/sweet red sauce and“şeker bean” hummus. YUM!

Oh, the prawns!

For the second course Susie and I shared a beef rib steak, rare, served with chard, mushrooms, artichoke, asparagus, and a reduced wine sauce. Oh, heaven! We couldn’t eat it all and hope the remains went to a worthy devotee.

Our rib steak, already half devoured–mustard sauce on the side.

My dessert, recommended by the waiter, was Buffalo Yogurt: a dollop of mint and molasses-flavored yogurt topped with strawberry sorbet and sugared walnut crumbles. It was a clear winner (we tasted each other’s desserts and mine was the best).

This may not look all that delectable, but it WAS! (Yogurt and sorbet rock.)

I give Mikla an easy 11 out of 10. Thanks, Tom!

The next few days I breezed small groups through three of my four walks, and I’ll share a few highlights. First of all, I know all too well that prices are higher in the Grand Bazaar because those 4000+ shops have a high overhead. I bought Turkish towels there anyway. At least I checked with a few vendors to get the best prices, and my friends followed suit. As we trekked the back streets behind the bazaar, we found the same items at a third of the price. Blush…

Rondi and Jane struggle to choose the finest Turkish towels in a Grand Bazaar shop.

We also stumbled across a man using  a funny little machine that looked like a coffee grinder. Actually, he was squeezing the oil out of black cumin seeds. They resemble poppy seeds or black sesame seeds, and the press puts out a core of black, hardened hulls pressed together into a tube. We were fascinated. The man explained that the oil (which looks like coffee) is good for your skin and for fixing stomach problems. He tried to sell some to us, but we passed.

The black cumin press.
A black tube emerges from the press.

I was excited to show my friends the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, but it was closed for renovation—BUMMER! I brought them down to a little spice wholesaler I know just below the mosque, where we all bought a number of spices.

Ulve Bey’s spices, outside his door.

Ulve’s son charged us 30 lira ($5) for a kilo of pul biber (a favorite Turkish spice like shaved pepper, but not so strong), and later I found it at a spice market near our hotel for 160 lira ($27) a kilo. More than five times the price. That’s why you should bargain in Turkey. It didn’t quite make up for the cost of our towels, but heck—I did my best.

Jini waits patiently outside while we shop for spices.

The next day we discovered a new museum in the Beyazit Hamam, which had been closed many years for renovations. It was damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and it took twenty years to fix it up, but what a find! The foundation of the hamam included recycled marble bits from the Forum of Theodosius (which ran along that stretch), including an upside-down soldier.

Can you spot the upside-down soldier in this foundation?

The museum itself had room after room of artifacts from old hamams, and the original sinks are still in place, three or four to a chamber. It was fun to think of sultans, harem slaves and community members lounging in these rooms, dumping hot water over themselves and indulging in soap suds massages.  

Any self-respecting woman in the harem would stagger in on these shoes. Imagine!

 

The wimps might wear these instead.

 

People would sit beside these sinks and scoop warm water over themselves. Or slaves might do it for them.

We wandered on to the Istanbul University gate, which was festooned with Turkish flags. I think nationalism is building again, hopefully in favor of secularism. Everyone we talked to has absolutely had it with the present regime. Enough said. 

The famed Istanbul University Gate— tourists not admitted.

Our final adventure on that trek was a visit with Recai, the owner of a little shop in the bookstore han (Sahaflar Han). He’s in my guidebook, but I didn’t recognize him because his tidy black beard is now gray, but he welcomed us warmly, insisting that we have a cup of tea and chat.

The cayçi serves Jini her first street tea.

It was a real hoot for us, and the man from the next shop, Fuat, brought Sue, Jini and me a bottle of water. Of course, we bought a few things from Recai—why not?

The friendly (and handsome) Recai Bey in the Sahaflar Han.

After lunch and a rest we trekked up to the Süleymaniye Mosque, the largest in Istanbul. It was closed many years for renovation; what joy to finally visit this expansive structure. An interesting note: ostrich eggs hung beside the 2000+ oil lamps to attract their soot, which was scraped off to make ink for the Sultan’s calligraphers.

Though the lights are electric, these ostrich eggs bring back memories of ages past.

Another note is that the famed architect Mimar Sinan designed this edifice and used to sit in a corner loudly slurping tea. When asked why, he explained that he was testing the acoustics of his creation. Sinan designed over 300 structures between the ages of 50 and 98. His tomb lies beside this mosque.

The Süleymaniye Mosque as viewed from the courtyard.

 

The interior of the Süleymaniye Mosque—descending domes.

We finished with a cup of ayran (a salted yogurt drink) and a shared bowl of fasuliye, a white bean dish with onions, peppers, tomato and spices. It not only offered us a delicious treat, but a needed break for our sore feet.

Fasuliye, ayran and bread. Yum!

It was hard to say goodbye to our travel compatriots, but Jini and I are staying on for yet another week at a friend’s apartment on Burgazada, one of the Princes Islands. More on that later.

Farewell, dear friends:
Ann Marie, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, Jane Hofkamp, Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt. Friends all!

Istanbul—yet again!

Here I am, back in my Home Away From Home, eager to share it with nine friends. More had planned to come, but a few had to cancel. Maybe next time…

At the last minute we were rerouted to the New Istanbul Airport, reputed to be the largest in the world.

Istanbul airport
The New Istanbul Airport

Shiny doesn’t even begin to say how stunning it was, but this new airport is a full 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the city center, which made it a LONG drive to our hotel, particularly during rush hour (which it was). I think it took us an hour and a half. Everyone was impressed, though, with our charming little hotel, the Kybele. It’s right in Sultanahmet, the historical part of the city. I’ve always been in love with this hotel’s countless hanging lanterns and antiques, even in the basement breakfast room. 

The Kybele lobby ceiling–magic!
The Kybele breakfast room

On the first evening four of us walked around the block to the Mozaik Restaurant, where Sally ordered a testi kabob, a hot dish baked in a closed clay pot that’s broken open at the table. The waiter brought it to our table in a flaming tray, and he handed Jini a knife to help him pound on the pot until the top exploded off. Jini’s comment was, “You can sure tell this isn’t Germany!” She’d just spent three weeks in Germany, and apparently she found the Turks a bit more enthusiastic and engaging than the Germans.

Jini assists in opening the testi kepab pot.

 

Breakfast the next morning was heavenly (except for the Nescafe coffee from a machine). I had all the olives I could eat (20?), along with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, dried apricots, juice, yogurt, cereal, bread, and menemen (scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions and peppers). Most everyone slept well—everyone except Tony and me. Three hours after a long overseas flight. Sigh… 

The breakfast spread at the Kybele–more in the next room.

Our tour guide, Gökçen, was incredible. She was patient with us and very kind, bringing snacks  and cookies to share with us every day. She carried a little child’s umbrella for us to follow, with some unidentifiable critter on it. Part elephant, part cat, and who-knows-what-else. The best part, though, is that she’s an historian—a genius.

Gökçen with her yellow umbrella, guiding us through Topkapi.

Our first visit was to the Hippodrome, which the Byzantine emperors established as an arena for chariot races and other events. It features a monument from a German kaiser as well as two obelisks, one taken from Luxor, Egypt in AD 390. I’ll never understand how they transported a 30-foot marble obelisk, but somehow they managed it.

The inside of the German Monument on the Hippodrome. Note the green crest of Prussia and the blue sultan’s Tuğra (signature) in the gold mosaic dome.

Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is under renovation. Actually, everything we saw was under renovation, which makes me both glad and sad. Glad that they’re keeping these things up, and sad that we couldn’t see them in their full glory. Oh, well…

The ceiling domes of the Blue Mosque
Female guards are a new addition to the Blue Mosque, something I was pleased to see.

 

The mosque features beautiful stained glass windows, over 200 of them.

Our final stop for the morning (an overfull one, I must say), was the Haghia Sophia, also under renovation. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world, and understandably. The first church there was built there in 360 AD, but it was destroyed by fire. The existing structure was completed in 537 AD under the direction of Emperor Justinian. On the second floor we saw Nordic runes, the signatures of Vikings that had visited the church long enough to leave their graffiti in its marble railings. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, its stunning gold mosaics were plastered over and the building was converted to a mosque. Then in 1937 Ataturk converted the building to a museum, ordering that the mosaics be uncovered. 

I continue to be overwhelmed at the majesty of this incredible edifice.

 

Little about the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia in Turkish) is more moving than the mosaic of Christ, who watches you as you progress through the upper gallery.

On our second day we toured Topkapi, the Ottoman palace from the 1450’s until  1853 . It’s a resplendent edifice, and there were no holds barred in its construction. We were awed time and time again by the ornate rooms we saw, decorated with tiles from Nicea (Iznık), abalone, marble, and finely-crafted woods. Its 174 acres are beautifully tended with stunning trees and flowers. Amazing!

One can enjoy the view over the Golden Horn from this lovely terrace.

 

This fellow was so lifelike that it took me a while to realize he was only a statue.

 

 

These eves far surpass those on my house!

 

The only problem with the palace was the throngs of tourists–OMG! By the time we left, we had to push our way out the gate, single file. There were hundreds of students piling into the entrance. We were more than glad to be leaving, believe me!

Imagine pushing your way through this mob to escape the palace. Unreal!

Gökçen had arranged a fabulous lunch for us in the Yildizlar Restaurant on the lower level of the Galata bridge. Talk about LUNCH! We had delicious mezes, a delectable fresh sea bass, and a dessert of fresh fruit. Heaven! Our grilled sea bass was light and moist—even the skin was delicious. 

My friend Tony was well into his meal before I even got started. That thing around my neck is a radio receiver for listening to our guide—an amazing invention.

We also watched the burning and opening of a salt-baked fish for another group—amazing. The waiter brought it out flaming, then tamped out the fire with a rubber hammer. After that he used a knife and the rubber hammer to break open the salt crust, then pried it open to reveal the fish, which he then divided and served. My goodness! 

 

The waiter taps at the salt crust to reveal the cooked fish…

 

Then as he lifts the crust to reveal the cooked fish, steam escapes…

 

And finally the delicacy is served to the waiting plates of eager customers.

 

After lunch we boarded a ferry for a Bosphorus tour, thankful to rest our weary feet as we marveled at the sights along this waterway that connects the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Seas with the Black Sea.

This picturesque military academy sits on the Asian side, just across from Robert College, where I taught between 2007 and 2011.

This 

We finally headed back to the hotel, though a few hearty souls took a side trip to the Spice Bazaar. I was done, done, done. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the hotel dining room after an hour or two of cocktails in the lobby. And then—to our rooms. Ah, sleep!

Turkish Referendum Looms on April 16th

Once again, I’m compelled to post a missive from my dear—albeit anonymous— friends in Turkey. They remain anonymous with good reason.

As you may know, Turkey faces a referendum that will strengthen the power of the president, effectively weakening the country’s parliamentary system and the government’s checks and balances. President Erdoğan, now in his fourteenth year in office, could remain in power another 13 years. He has already used the coup attempt as reason to close  down liberal newspapers and television stations and jail hundreds of military and education personnel. He has unabashedly used government funds to promote his move toward dictatorship for Turkey. Frightening.

Here’s the news from my friends on the inside:

No! No! A Thousand Times No!

The cruise missile attack by the Trump administration on a Syrian army base this week, in addition to further delaying an end to the slaughter and destruction in our neighbor Syria, has added another layer of anxiety here in Turkey as we head toward next Sunday’s referendum. The attack has put more wind in the sails of our President, who has been militating for the overthrow of the Syrian government since 2011.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
The Grand Bazaar on a National Holiday demonstrates the patriotism of the Turkish Republic

We suspect that our readers by this time have heard about as much as they can take about the Turkish referendum. The authors of this newsletter have certainly had enough and can’t wait for the campaign to be over. Fortunately for our sanity all campaigning has been banned during the coming week leading up to the vote. We’ve been suffering from a form of political bi-polar disorder – one day hopeful, next day down in the dumps. So we will not belabor the point. Our final appraisal is this: Should ‘Yes’ win, the results can have no legitimacy in the eyes of any impartial observer. Why?

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A Turk selling flags  the New Mosque

1. The referendum is being conducted while Turkey is being ruled under a State of Emergency, giving authorities limitless powers to intimidate and crack down on free speech, the media and the right to assembly.

2. The third largest party in Parliament, the Kurdish-based HDP is under severe attack, its leadership in jail, and the municipalities it administered seized and placed under receivership. Even their ‘No’ campaign song in Kurdish has been banned. (Probably because it’s cute and catchy, anathema to most Turkish politicians. Plus, you don’t need to know Kurdish to get the message.)

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One of my favorite photos—a patriotic Turk walks the Istanbul Marathon

3. The President and Prime Minister have unabashedly used the resources of the state, paid for by the taxpayers, to campaign for the ‘Yes’ vote.

4. The media, and especially the TV networks, have shamelessly favored the ‘Yes’ campaign in their news coverage, and this in a country that has the highest level of TV viewing in the world.

5. Thug attacks on ‘No’ proponents and their meetings have placed serious restraints on the ability of the naysayers to campaign. No wonder so many people say they are undecided in poll surveys.

6. And finally, the yea-saying government has total control over the entire referendum process, including ballot counting and handling of any challenge to the results that might arise.

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An Ataturk monument to a secular democracy, Arnavutköy, Turkey

In spite of the ‘Yes’ campaign’s apparent total dominance, most opinion polls say it’s still too close to call. Whatever the official results on April 17th, Turkey will remain a deeply divided country with an uncertain future. However, should a ‘No’ vote prevail against all odds, it would mean a humiliating defeat for those who have been curtailing the most basic democratic rights and closing down political space for those struggling for social justice.

We say No! No! A thousand times No! in the referendum and No! to the continuation of the war in Syria.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
This colorful patriot could often be seen on Istiklal, Freedom Street

*  *  *

As a follow up to our ‘Turkish Hairlines’ newsletter posting, we can’t hold ourselves back from reporting that the Turkish President, during a ‘Yes’ campaign rally at the presidential palace entitled “‘Yes’, of course, for a beautiful Turkey”, signed a decree under the State of Emergency (!) authorizing beauticians at beauty salons to do laser hair removal. This is an extremely popular procedure among Turkish women which was formerly restricted, for safety and health reasons, to dermatologists in government-approved hospitals and clinics. Was this an indication of the kind of Presidential decrees we can expect if ‘Yes’ prevails on April 16? Another reason to vote ‘No’.

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You Must only to love them
Oh, what lies ahead for the Turkey I’ve grown to love?

A Turkish election about presidential power

I just received this message from friends in Istanbul and wanted to pass it on to Turkophiles like myself. They prefer to remain anonymous.

“On Sunday, April 16th, Turkish voters (including yours truly) will go to the polls to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the package of constitutional amendments that, if passed, will change Turkey’s governing structure from a parliamentary to a presidential system. Supporters of the ‘yes’ vote say that a president with strong executive powers will mean a strong and stable Turkey, be good for the economy and put an end to terrorism. Supporters of a ‘no’ vote claim that the kind of presidential system being proposed would severely weaken parliament, increase political pressure on the judiciary and open up the country to the real possibility of authoritarian one-man rule. (We won’t have any pesky judges, for example, overruling presidential executive orders since the president’s influence over high judiciary bodies will be greatly enhanced.)”

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What is the future of the Turkish secular democracy?

And they continue,

“The campaign will most likely be a very intense – and ugly – one. Both the president and prime minister have drawn a virtual equal sign between voting no and supporting terrorism. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been advocating the change for some time now, his ruling AK Party and the nationalist MHP will be going all out for a ‘yes’ vote. The main opposition CHP and the Kurdish-based HDP, the other two parties in parliament, are strongly opposed to the amendments. Current polls predict a tight vote. The fact that the referendum vote is taking place during the State of Emergency and with the main leadership and much of the secondary leadership of the HDP in jail on charges of supporting terrorism means very tough going for the ‘no’ vote campaign.”

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A president seeking more power: Recep Tayyyip Erdoğan

I’m not sure there’s anything we can do to influence the vote, but it’s important to keep informed. If you have contact with Turks, it might behoove you to do some campaigning to keep the country secular and the courts strong.

 

Let me share my tale…

You must only to love them, Ann Marie Mershon, annmariemershon.com, https://www.amazon.com/You-must-only-love-them-ebook/dp/B01DFUGIEI

I spent some amazing years teaching in Turkey, and I’d be happy to send you copies at a discount. Contact me to share this tale with friends and family. And if you haven’t read it yet, well, prepare to be surprised. Five Stars on Amazon with 53 reviews. Order before December 15th, because I’ll be off on yet another adventure.

Shameless self-promotion, I know.

Sigh…

 

 

An update from Turkey: OHAL

Many people have asked me how things are in Turkey since the coup attempt. In addition to a devastating downturn in tourism, life has changed—a bit for some and incredibly for others. My favorite ex-pat couple wrote a blog about Turkey for years, but because their interests lean toward the political, they’ve shifted it from the web to an e-mail format. Sad, but understandable. They’ve given me permission to share their most recent missive, though they asked that I not use their names. Sad again, especially since Turkey was lauded as a secular democracy. Was.

Turkey, annmariemershon.com,
The domes of the Blue Mosque now attract fewer tourists.

Here’s their update on how things are going:

HAIL TO THE CHIEF

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
The Chief: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

If anything would stimulate a person’s desire to turn on, tune in, drop out and forget about it all, it’s some of the happenings this year in Turkey. What with suicide bombings, seemingly endless internal and external savage war, the July 15th summer surprise coup attempt and the resultant mass exodus of tourists and foreign residents, the temptation to seek comfort in strong liquid refreshment is compelling.

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The Galata Tower watches over a quieter Istanbul.

However, that outlet is not considered available for observant Muslims. But just to be sure, the governor of the central Anatolian province of Yozgat recently announced that under the authority of Turkey’s State of Emergency imposed after the coup attempt, he was closing all places serving alcohol as, in his opinion, they constitute a threat to the family. Although he subsequently backed off of a blanket shutdown of every single such place, we’re certain that it will be even harder to enjoy a drop in Yozgat than before, and even then it was a pretty dry place.

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Now who will buy the colorful Turkish carpets?

The State of Emergency (OHAL) in Turkey, recently given a 3-month extension, has become a source of major trauma for a huge number of people in Turkey. More than 100,000 people have lost their jobs, many of them teachers and other public employees, all of them alleged to have either links to the Gülen movement, blamed for the coup attempt, or to the PKK. Hundreds of businesses have been confiscated by the government due to supposed links to the Gülen movement. Dozens of media outlets have been closed, including many pro-Kurdish or left-leaning newspapers and TV stations, on allegations of spreading terrorist propaganda. Finally, more than 30,000 people have been jailed, including a number of prominent journalists, intellectuals and authors. To make room for them, an equal number of prisoners were discharged from the prison system. All of these measures have turned the OHAL into a powerful tool for the gradual consolidation of power in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka ‘the Chief’), who has declared that even a year of emergency rule may not be sufficient.

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Turkey’s stunning beauty is enjoyed by fewer tourists.

Getting back to our Yozgat governor, an understandable resultant side effect of this massive purge has been the spectacle of Erdoğan loyalists falling all over themselves opportunistically trying to outdo one another to prove their devotion to the Chief. Pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak columnist Aydın Ünal writes of the emergence of individuals and groups who he describes as sycophants and flunkies who declare themselves “the most pro-Chief,” “the genuine pro-Chief,” “the essential pro-Chief people.” These self-promoters do all they can to criticize and taint others by calling into question their devotion to the Chief.

Turkey, Istanbul, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Who will enjoy the culinary treats of the now-deserted Istiklal Caddesi?

Where is this going? Hard to say, but we would guess that one outcome may be that we’re headed for a new constitution which includes a change to a ‘Turkish-style’ Presidential system with, you guessed it, the Chief at the helm. Barkeep, another round, please! … Barkeep! Uh, barkeep?

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
Beer drinking may go to the dogs with OHAL.

 

I extend a HUGE thank-you to my dear expat friends. Good information, delivered with a touch of humor. Love those guys! By the way, they make the best martinis on the planet. If they can find the liquor.

(The photos are mine.)

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You must only to love them.

It’s the truth, according to my friend Uygar. To control Turkish students “you must only to love them.” He was right, and his ungrammatical advice is the title of a new memoir about my years in Turkey—finally, finally, finally finished! Complete! Finito! Bitmiş!

Whew!

PINK-Rose-Colored-Glasses-300x193I must admit, I wore rose-colored glasses much of the time, but this book does explore some of the darker sides of my experience, too, like being caught in a big demonstration with riot police:

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And then there was the disastrous soccer match–Oh, my!

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And believe me, it’s honest. You’ll see when you read it. No holds barred on this one.

If you followed my escapades over the years you might find this account a walk down memory lane. If you haven’t, perhaps it will pique your interest in Turkey, a country I grew to love—deeply.

Turkey has a wealth of history, amazing edifices and artifacts, and astounding terrain, but the true beauty of the country is its people. I hope I’ve shown that in my stories.
I don’t want to spoil the book for you. In fact, I’d love for you to read it. The e-book is under four dollars, and it’s also available as a paperback. Reviews so far have been excellent, so I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. Click on the book below to transport yourself to Amazon:

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And if you’d like to try something new, there’s a rafflecopter giveaway for the book through May 16th. Here’s the link for that.

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Istanbul—The Rest of the Story

Our second week in Istanbul was less eventful, mostly because we’d been pummeled by the Turkish cold bug. Poor Lynette had it the whole time we were there. So unfair!

I started feeling punk on the way back from Cappadocia. I knew I had a fever by the time we got to the Kayseri Airport, so we went up to the cafeteria to get some hot water for a cup of Tylolhot, the Turkish cold remedy that we basically mainlined for the rest of our stay. Well, enough of that. The show must go on!

Far more delicious than our Tylolhot was the Turkish Delight:Locum—yum! Also known as Turkish Delight. Ann Marie's Istanbul
I talked Lynette (the Taxi Queen, as I later learned) to forego a taxi and take the shuttle bus to Taksim, 3/4 of the way home. It was a comfortable ride in a beautiful bus. Never mind that it took 1 1/2 hours. When we got to Taksim I suggested the funicular and tram (public transport), but Lynette was feeling crummy so we grabbed a taxi. Our driver seemed nice enough, but as we got closer to Sultanahmet he began complaining more and more. Many of the taxi drivers don’t know the city well, and he tried to drop us off a half-mile from our destination. No way! We finally got him to drop us off a few blocks from the apartment, and I handed him the full 110 lira that was on the meter (about $45). He pulled the same trick our previous driver had pulled, swearing that I’d given him two 5’s instead of 50’s. I said “HAYIR, Çok ayip!” (NO, shame on you!) and we stormed off in spite of his protests. I wouldn’t advise anyone to trust an Istanbul taxi driver. When we told Musa about it, he asked if we’d gotten his taxi number, but we hadn’t. From now on, I’ll take down the taxi number before I ever step into an Istanbul taxi. Oh, FURY!

Each day is punctuated by five (I think six) calls to prayer. Here’ s evidence from a small mosque that these are broadcast live by each mosque’s imam:

The imam's sound studio and stairs to the minaret, Ann Marie's Istanbul
On Friday I felt better, although Lynette felt worse, so she stayed in while I headed off to Arnavütköy and Robert College. It was a sunny day and my heart filled with nostalgic warmth as I climbed the long hill to campus.

Robert College’s main building, Gould Hall (in autumn):

Gould Hall, Robert College, Istanbul, once the American Girls' College. Ann Marie's Istanbul

The campus had hardly changed, although it boasted a new teacher’s lounge (a previous computer lab) and a beautifully renovated library. I got to chat with a number of my teaching cronies, all of whom were almost as happy to see me as they were eager for their spring break, which began that day. I also basked in enthusiastic hugs from former students, both male and female. I’ll never get over how warm the Turks are; I feel true affection both for and from my former students.

I trekked down to Arnavütköy to the bank and was pleased to see my gypsy friend still selling flowers on the main street.

A daily scene on the street in Arnavutköy, a gypsy flower merchant. Ann Marie's Istanbul
After a chatty cocktail hour at Bizimtepe, the Robert College alumni country club attached to the campus, I trekked back down the hill to head home. I expected a packed bus at rush hour, and I got one. It took an hour to crawl along the Bosphorus to Kabataş, where I’d catch the tram home—a quicker ride. When I got there I just missed a tram and had to wait for the next one, usually about 3-5 minutes. Well, it started to drizzle as the crowd increased, but no tram. After 20 minutes an announcement (in Turkish) informed us that the trams were stuck in a traffic jam in Sultanahmet near the train station. Sigh… We stood in that rain for nearly a half hour, and very few of us had umbrellas. Heck, it had been a gorgeous day!
A kind young man gave up a seat for me in the tram, one of the few perks of having white hair. By the time I got to the Sultanahmet stop I’d quit shivering, but another six-block walk in the rain didn’t do my cold any good. By the time I got back I was losing my voice, which was totally gone the next morning.
Lynette and I did manage to get out a few more times, but we had to cancel three social engagements because we just weren’t feeling that great. So—Bahadir, Julide, and Mark and Jolee: I’ll definitely see you on the next visit!

I couldn’t resist including this view over the Golden Horn from the Süleymaniye Mosque:

Overlooking Istanbul from the Süleymaniye Mosque, Ann Marie's Istanbul
We did manage a short trek to the Maiden’s Tower for tea. The Maiden’s Tower (Kız Kilesi) is steeped in myths, my favorite one that it was built by a sultan to protect his daughter from a foretold death at age 18. The sultan visited his daughter regularly, and on her 18th birthday he brought her a basket of food and gifts, unaware that someone had sneaked a viper into the basket. Of course, it struck and killed his precious princess.

The Maiden’s Tower perches in the Bosphorus just across from Sultanahmet near Uskudar:

The Maiden's Tower, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

This princess is having her wedding photos taken in front of the Maiden’s Tower—note the hair-covering headpiece.

Turkish wedding photo on the Bosphorus, Ann Marie's Istanbul
We also found our way on the metro to the Chora Church (Kariye), a stunning Byzantine church near the old city wall that has been cleaned and renovated. Sadly, the naos (main area) of the church was closed for renovation, but there were plenty of beautiful mosaics and frescoes for us to see. It’s supposed to be one of the best preserved Byzantine churches in the world.

This stunning dome is a part of the narthex decorations in the Chora Church:

A dome in the Chora Church, Istanbul, Ann Marie's Istanbul

And this glittering masterpiece decorates a section of the ceiling of the narthex:

Chora Church Narthex dome, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul
After both outings we came home and collapsed on the couch. Energy levels were NOT high.
We’d planned a trip to Emirgan Park on Monday to see the tulip displays, but we just didn’t have the energy. Instead, we headed down to nearby Gülhane Park, just below Topkapı Palace. The tulips there were in full bloom, and people were out enjoying them, snapping photos and basking in the beauty of Istanbul’s Tulip Festival.

This river of tulips and hyacinths (not all blooming yet) flows under the bridge in the background.

Spring tulips in Gülhane Park, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

In spite of a cloudy day, people basked in the luscious displays of Istanbul’s Tulip Festival.

Turkish lovelies bask among the tulip displays, Istanbul: Ann Marie's Istanbul

This little miss waited her turn to pose with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic:

A junior patriot poses with the esteemed Atatürk : Ann Marie's Istanbul

And this little dolly was pleased to pose for a tulip snapshot:

Every Turk loves tulip season: Ann Marie's Istanbul
We topped off our final evening with a bowl of mercimek (lentil soup) in a small restaurant near our apartment. Pretty quiet, but nice. Istanbul is a good place, even for those a bit under the weather. Bed by nine, and up by 2 AM to catch the airport shuttle. No more taxis for us!

From Istanbul to Cappadocia

Ah, heaven! Back in my beloved Turkey again. I’m actually here to work on the guidebook I wrote with my friend Edda, Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter~Backstreet Walking Tours. If you haven’t bought one yet, you might find it interesting.

4d Hans book cover

I’m updating information, improving the walking directions, and taking care of some contractual issues before we have the book developed into a phone app. My friend Lynette has been an indispensable aide, my guinea pig as she attempts to follow written walk directions with neither maps nor photos to guide her. We’ve improved on nearly all of the 100 sets of directions in the book, and let me tell you, we were greatly relieved to finish the last walk. We celebrated by treating ourselves to a dinner of fasuliye (spiced, stewed beans), pilaf, and eggplant hot dish near the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was fabulous (and quite reasonable).

Lynette on top of the Sair Han overlooking the city and the Golden Horn:

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Speaking of reasonable, I feel bad for the Turks, as the lira is weak right now. It’s a GREAT time for Americans to travel here, though. When I taught here a dollar was about 1.3 to 1.6 lira, and now a dollar is 2.6 lira. It makes for some cheap meals. Sadly, though, hotels and carpet dealers operate on the dollar, so no great deals there.

The ceiling of the Süleymaniye Mosque—cascading domes and arches:

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We spent our first four days in Istanbul in my friend Musa’s third floor apartment with two bedrooms and a stunning view over the Marmara. It even comes complete with a pair of cooing doves on the balcony. All this space is a luxury, especially in the Sultanahmet location. Unfortunately, Lynette caught a nasty cold on the plane and has been lying low much of each day.

My friend Musa Başaran dyes fibers and designs kilims. The design he’s showing on the computer will be fabricated in tulips next week by the Haghia Sophia:

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I’m posing beside the silk threads Musa uses in his own kilims:

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On Saturday I ferried out to join my friend Sandra on Burgazada, one of the Princes Islands. It was a treat to revisit its horse carriages and incredible vistas. No cars allowed sure works for me!

This is the local taxi service as well as an adventure for tourists:

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On our ride back from the island Sunday morning Sandra confronted a young man who was going to light up a cigarette on the ferry (in spite of clear NO SMOKING signs). They ended up in quite a quarrel with him insisting that people should resist unreasonable rules. A Turkish man stepped in to support Sandra, but we all just ended up shaking our heads. Turks can definitely be stubborn. Actually, I’m surprised at how many Turkish people still smoke in spite of all the information about the health risks. The entire cover of Turkish cigarette packages is a warning about smoking.

My friend Sandra on our ferry ride back to the city, cloaked in fog:

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Before we knew it, the time had come to head for Cappadocia. Lynette and I decided to forego the lengthy public transport to the airport (3 hours, 35 lira total) and grab a taxi. It should have cost about 100 lira (now only $40). “Traffic problem,” our driver said, “taxi 200 to 250 lira.”

“Turn on the meter,” I told him, and he did, but  it stopped at 23.5 lira. (Gosh, I wonder how.) When I asked about it he said it was automatic. I was mad. When we arrived at the airport he asked for 260 lira. What???? By that time smoke was pouring from my ears. I told him to wait and walked over to the taxi stand. Another driver said it should cost about 130-140 lira from Sultanahmet. I stormed back to our driver and gave him 140 lira. He called me a crazy woman. Yup! I hate when this happens. I’ve heard that taxi drivers will often bilk tourists out of money, and if I hadn’t known what to do (and known a little Turkish), we’d have spent an extra $50 on that trip.
We thoroughly enjoyed Cappadocia. I’ve fallen hard for Göreme, and the Kelebek Hotel is like a kiss on the cheek. We woke the first morning to a bevy of balloons floating through the sky, recalling memories of our balloon ride the last time we were in Cappadocia.

IMG_9445Most of the stone formations in Cappadocia have been carved out as homes:

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I happily connected with old friends at the hotel (Mehmet and Hasan), and we stopped in to visit with Ali, a carpet dealer who took us dancing a few years ago when we came with a tour. According to Hasan, Göreme is about the size of my home town of Grand Marais, about 2000 residents but it has 143 hotels. Amazing. A good percentage of them are cave hotels, too.

A bevy of back-street signs directing tourists to the many cave hotels:

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And look who I discovered walking along near those signs:

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On our second day in Cappadocia the power went out—not just in our area, but all over Turkey. I can’t begin to imagine what the traffic must have been in Istanbul. It’s a nightmare even when the stoplights are functioning. Fortunately, our hotel had a generator, so we had both lights and internet.

We ate that evening at the Dibek Restaurant, and thankfully they, too, had a generator. They serve regional foods prepared by the family under the direction of Anne-Anne (Grandmother). The decor is traditional with floor cushions and low tables. I went back to thank them for the fabulous meal, and they were tickled that I could speak Turkish. It warms my heart to reach out to them in their own language.

Lynette and I wait patiently for our dinner to arrive at the Dibek. We weren’t the first diners—there were two other tables that early.

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The next day Lynette was a bit under the weather, so I hiked alone: five challenging kilometers through the Pigeon Valley and up to the top of Uçhısarı, which was once a castle overlooking the entire valley. The highest point in Cappadocia, this castle was carved from the soft rock of Cappadocia’s tallest peak over 2000 years ago. It’s pocked with windows and doorways carved into the stone, and I wasn’t sorry that they’ve added stairs around the outside up to the summit. Lots of stairs.

A view of Uçhısarı from about halfway through the Pigeon Valley:

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And then another more up close and personal:

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I later learned that people lived in these carved-out homes until 1950, when they were relocated to hand-built homes for safety. The next year a large section of Uçhisar caved in during an earthquake.

The next day was a tearful goodbye to the magic of Cappadocia, and back to Istanbul. Ah, Istanbul!