Back in Turkey—yet again!

It’s heaven to be back in friendly, fascinating Turkey, and I’m sharing it with 20 friends. People asked me to organize a tour of Turkey, and this is my compromise—an exclusive GoAhead Tour for just us. It’s been beyond fascinating.
I’ve traveled Turkey on my own, often with guided tours of particular sites, but this tour is amazing. We have a spanking new Mercedes tour bus and our own full-time guide, who talks us through the historical, political, and social facets of Turkey as we pass through.

The Sultan’s bedroom in Topkapı Palace, Istanbul:

The domed ceiling of the majestic Haghia Sophia, Istanbul:

School girls waiting to use a rest room in Sultanahmet, Istanbul:

We spent two days in Istanbul before heading west down the Gallipoli Peninsula, where we ferried across the Dardenelles Strait to Troy. Hard to believe, but someone actually discovered the location of Ancient Troy where the great battle was fought over Helen. We’re all amazed at Mehmet’s vast knowledge of Turkish history and the archeology of each site.

Our wonderful tour guide, Mehmet Çabuk:

One great help on our tours has been “whisperers”, remote headsets that carry Mehmet’s comments to us without him having to yell. It’s an amazing improvement, especially for those of us who are hearing challenged or who tend to wander off taking photos.
We continued south along the Aegean Sea as Mehmet transported us back in time through the Persian, Roman, Greek, and Ottoman empires (among others–see the link at the top of my blog page for an interactive map of the Mediterranean’s historical empires).

Standing columns at Pergamom:

Ephesus, of course, was a highlight, one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. It blew my mind to think that 250,000 people lived there over 2000 years ago.

Our Group heads down the main street in Ephesus, Turkey:

A few of us split off to see the upper-class terraced houses, which had intricate wall paintings, floor murals, and stunning marble wall coverings.

Mosaic floors in the terraced homes at Ephesus, Turkey:

We also visited the reputed home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Though I’m not convinced she really lived there (so far from Bethlehem), she apparently fled Jerusalem to avoid persecution for the evils of her son. I have to admit, though, it was a serene mountain-top setting, and I was surprised to see that it was visited by many Turks. People don’t realize that Islam embraces Biblical history with Jesus as a prophet and that Mohammed was the next prophet after Jesus.

The home of Mary…

We also visited Şirince (Sheer-IN-jay), a quaint mountain village that lost its Greek-speaking citizens in the population exchange at the end of the first world war. It gave us a taste of rural Turkey as well as a few sips of the fruit wines it has become famous for.

Şirince’s Greek-style homes near Selçuk, Turkey:


Our next stop was Didyma’s Temple of Appollo, a 2500-year-old oracle second second in the Hellenic world only to the Oracle at Delphi. Young female priestesses inhaled gasses emitting from the ground and gave cryptic answers to questions from people who traveled many miles to consult the oracle about their fates. Intricate marble carvings surround the temple, including floral patterns, griffons, and repeated images of Medusa. Two of its 60-foot high columns still stand, majestic above the ruins.

Medusa guards the Temple of Appollo, Didyma:


That evening we landed in Pamukkale, where an entire mountainside is covered with glittering white precipitate from hot mineral springs that flow up from the mountain. Our group’s scientists (Jerry Wilkes and Dan Bale) enlightened Mehmet about the chemical composition of the water and the resulting carbonate formations. Apparently the water carries calcium bicarbonate in solution, which solidifies into calcium carbonate as it evaporates. I must admit that I don’t much care what it is, but they’re thrilled to have resolved the confusion. At any rate, it was gorgeous, and we enjoyed wading through some of its many pools.

Jerry and I wade in the mineral pools of Pamukkale, Turkey:


The highlight of Pamukkale was the ruins of Hierapolis, a huge city dating back to 200 B.C. Apparently it was the first city to be laid out in a grid plan, something we’ve carried to modern times. Some of us took a mini-bus tour of the ruins, and our driver’s 8-year-old son, Ahmet, joined us. He was off school for Children’s Day, a national holiday in Turkey. Ahmet joined us to practice his English, asking and answering simple questions in English. I had fun chatting with him in Turkish, in spite of my paltry vocabulary.

How could I help but pose with darling Ahmet?

He shared his English manual, and we got a charge out of the phonetic translations. Turkish is a phonetic language where every letter always makes the same sound, so it was fun to see their take on our phrases:

“I’m very sorry.” = aym veri sori
“That’s all right.” = dets ol rayt
“It doesn’t matter.” =it dasınt metır
“Sorry to bother you just now.” = sori tu bodhır yu cast nau (a Turkish ‘c’ is pronounced as a ‘j’)
“Goodbye” = gudbay
“See you later.” = si yu leytır

Ahmet was happy to point out all the lizards sunning on the sarcophagi. He was absolutely precious. He also explained (in Turkish, translated by Mehmet) that gold coins were placed in the mouths and palms of wealthier people when they were buried. Funds for the next life, I suppose.

The theater of Hierapolis in Pammukale:

Our spa hotel in Pamukkale had its own thermal bath, a cone-like formation outside one building that spouted hot mineral water that poured into a pool that stretches into the building, leaving calcification as it flowed. Though the water was murky, it was a natural hot-tub that soothed our bodies as well as our souls (and didn’t stink).

The mineral spring at the Lycus Hotel, Pamukkale:

The spa pool was a little murky, especially compared to the clear azure of the unheated outdoor pool. Jerry and I, desperate for exercise, swam laps in the pool in spite of its frigid temps. It was over 70 degrees outside, but the pool couldn’t have been much over 50 degrees. BRRR!!!

One of the major frustrations of this trip has been the price of wine in the hotels. We bought a bottle of rose thinking it cost about 25 lira. ($16). We excused its bitter taste because it was so cheap, but later discovered that we had had mistaken the single glass price and were charged 70 lira ($45) for a crappy bottle of wine. I’d NEVER pay that much in the U.S. Of course, I’m pretty cheap.

A ponderous Turkish tourist at Ephesus, Turkey:

It’s been a joy to share my favorite second home with friends, and they seem truly happy with what they’ve seen. And my goodness—have we learned a LOT!!!

Snow and Tears in Istanbul

I’m done. Yesterday was my last day of school, and it was easily the warmest send-off I’ve ever had.

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My adventure started last weekend with a Friday dinner shared with Minnesota friends, Susan and Waverley–fascinating women. We knitted, sipped, ate, and chatted our way into the late evening.

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Saturday morning dawned drizzly. Sigh…

Istanbulites forge on into the drizzle (and snow)

My friend David trekked over from the Asian side and we headed into Sultanahmet for one last trip. I needed to pick up some spices, interview a bag-seller for the third printing of my book, and pick up three glass lanterns for my porch. I bargained a good price for lanterns in the Spice Bazaar, and after the obligatory cups of tea in the shop, we headed back out into the blustery day. The cold air penetrated to our bones as we wended our way to the Hamdi Restaurant for a “farewell lunch” of Iskender (pide with doner, tomato sauce, melted butter, and yogurt–YUM). As we indulged, I noticed snowflakes in the air–the first I’d seen this year. Such fun. Minutes later the power went out. Luckily, we were near a window and it didn’t affect us all that much. Soon the power came back on, and we ordered tea as we chatted, continuing the slow process of warming up after being chilled to the bone.
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We forged out to finish our spice shopping, but when we got to my spice dealer, his shop was dark. He tried his scale, but to no avail. It needed power—Istanbul has gone digital. “Maalasef,” he apologized. There were a few shops in the Spice Bazaar with generators, so that’s where we headed. Maalasef. (I prefer frequenting the shops outside the bazaar.)

One of the many vendors just outside the Spice Bazaar


“I’m about done,” I said as we completed our purchases of salep and pistachios. “Let’s head home.”
“Do you think the trams will be running?”
“Oh, no—electric trams.” Another sigh.
We walked along the tram line long enough to verify that our main line home was out of commission.
“How about a ferry?” I suggested. “We can take the ferry to Kadiköy, then take another one back to Beşiktaş.”
“If the ticket machines are working,” David replied. “We might as well try.”

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Snow swirled around our heads as we climbed the overpass to the pier. The first station was roped off–closed. Oh, no! We kept walking and found our way to the Kadiköy station, which was operational. Apparently they had a generator. Whoopee!

 

The ferry to Kadiköy was packed–and quite modern

Our roundabout route from Europe to Asia and back to Europe again took nearly three hours, but that included an hour in the Iskele restaurant.

My buddy David toasts to winter in Istanbul.

We were serenaded on the second ferry ride, a welcome diversion.


That evening our friend Güler joined us for dinner in my apartment–leftovers, sadly, but we managed well. She informed us that the entire city had been without power that afternoon. That’s a city of 15 million people. Whew!
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Sunday David and I roused early to ferry across the Sunny Bosphorus (Hooray!) and met my friend Julide, who had offered to show us the Beylerbeyi Palace.

David and I after a delicious Turkish breakfast at Beylerbeyi.

We started with a Turkish breakfast in a poolside gazebo, then wandered the grounds before the English tour finally started.

Julide poses with David outside the palace…

…then escorts us up a few garden terraces to the outdoor pool, just below the Bosphorus bridge.

We were accosted by a guard as we meandered around the pool, but since we’d entered on a walkway with no barriers, Julide talked our way out of an arrest. 🙂

 

The contrast between the 19th century palace and the 20th century bridge is stunning.


The palace, a summer palace built after Dolmabahçe, was stunning, and Julide walked us through the charming waterfront community of Beylerbeyi, where we again stopped for tea. When I asked for the bill (it was to be my treat), the patron insisted that our tea was complimentary. Only in Turkey.

The sweet Beylerbeyi Iskele (ferry station)


Fishing boats moored just outside our little restaurant

Cyclamen (Ataturk plants) bloom optimistically outside a Beylerbeyi restaurant.

The snow kept coming, and Monday evening brought a few inches that stayed on the ground–well, at least the trees. I took my camera with me to school, just to record the event.

Snow below my apartment…

…snow on the Bosphorus at sunrise…

…and snow at Robert College (two students pose with me–Yasemin and Pelinsu)

My last day of school was a tear-jerker—literally. This has never happened in all the years I’ve taught over here, but I had students crying all day long. Pelinsu, an exuberant girl in my core class (10 hours a week) had started crying the day before, and she was in full weepy-mode when I got to class on Thursday. She sort of led the charge as her friends joined in sobbing.

Though I did my best to console Pelinsu, the tears kept coming.


I cheered them up with some word games, then we went down to the lush Faculty Parlor to celebrate our semester together. I supplied cheesecake and chips, hoping to ruin their lunch. Which I did. Mine, too.

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Everyone grinned when they produced a gift they’d bought for me, gathering eagerly as I opened it. My first Oscar! YILIN EN İYİ ÖĞRETMENİ —THE YEAR’S BEST TEACHER. Gosh.

Who could resist loving these kids, huh?


During the flag ceremony I was applauded (at least by my three classes) and presented with yet another gift–a silver salver engraved with my name and the Robert College insignia. Along with that I received a card from each of my classes with touching notes from every single student. More tears—mine this time. Hugs abounded after the ceremony.

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Fellow teachers topped off the day with a round of adult beverages at Bizim Tepe, the Robert College Club adjacent to the school. And there’s MORE—dinner with Erica, a woman who’s reached out warmly while I’ve been here.
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So, as I said, I’m done.
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I’m all packed up to move back home, but first I’m traveling with my friend Sandra to the Far East—Taiwan, Hainan (China), Hong Kong, and Thailand.

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Not too bad.

Taking leave of Arnavutköy



It’s time to bid my beloved Arnavutköy farewell yet again. I’ve grown to love this charming community in the middle of one of the world’s largest cities. Oh, if only every city were a conglomeration of such sweet village-like communities.

Arnavutköy’s famous ‘seaside houses’~

Friday night before I snapped off the light I heard a deep, resonant voice calling from the street—”BO-ZA! BO-ZA!” I was just too darned tired to walk down for some, though I love it.
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I slept in after a long night with aching legs. The excessive stair climbing at school had wreaked havoc with my hips, knees, and legs after their week’s hiatus of strolling the flat terrain of Antalya. I ended up lying with my hips on a pillow, my legs extended up the wall to ease the pain. UGH! I scheduled a session with Edith, our Arnavutköy massage therapist / holistic healer. When I had similar pains last fall, she fixed me up in one session of acupuncture and massage. All fingers crossed. Enough whining, though.

More of Arnavutköy’s Ottoman houses below my apartment



I got up and settled in the living room with my morning coffee, Libby curled beside me. “SEE-MEET!! SEE-MEET!!” echoed from the street. I peered down to watch the simitci as he climbed the steep, cobbled street with a huge tray of hoop-like sesame breads balanced on his head.
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“Time to start,” I reminded myself, rising to sort through the desk drawer and sundry piles that have materialized in my apartment (amazing what one can accumulate in five months). I made a schedule of social events, errands, and purchases for my last few weeks, then headed down with Libby to begin the process.

The local hardware store where the owner cut off a small bolt for me, free of charge~


I had friends coming for dinner, so my tasks included buying food for Egyptian Kosheri, recycling paper(from my culled piles), framing a hamam picture, and repairing my ailing hair dryer. (My Scotch tape repair just wasn’t cutting it.) It began drizzling as we headed past the old synagogue ruin and down to the recycling bins on the Bosphorus. We trekked along the pier past the ferry station and up into the village for our first stop: the art and frame shop. The framer speaks no English, but my Turkish was adequate to the task. We chose an ornate gold frame, which will be ready in a week. Cost for a custom-made frame: 10 lira ($6). Amazing.

Fishing boats along the Arnavutköy pier~

A statue to Ataturk in the town square~

…and up the street, Istanbul’s ugliest sculpture.

Second stop: grocery store. Though Libby was not thrilled to be tied outside again, when I emerged from the store she greeted me like she hadn’t seen me in months. Love that enthusiasm.

Third stop: electrician. I’ve used the cluttered Bogazıcı Elektrik a few times, and since the owner likes dogs, I knew Libby would be welcome. He has a big German shepherd who likes to remind Libby of her position in the world of street dogs. This time he was lazing contentedly outside the shop and didn’t even muster a growl.

The Electric Shop’s guard dog–NOT!

 

The young proprieter, clad in a black stocking cap, jacket, and polar plus shirt, sat behind a desk in the back of a tiny shop crammed with sundry electronic devices and accoutrements. He stood as I walked in, and when I showed him my bozuk (broken) hair dryer, he gestured me to a seat. Would it be that quick, I wondered? He plucked a screwdriver from the mountain of wires, tools, drills, cables, and numerous newspapers covering his worktable and dove into the task–on his lap.

My electronics hero–note the workdesk to his left.

As he worked, we chatted about life in Arnavutköy, the Black Sea area he came from, our parents, and Libby, who warmed right up to him.
A few men came into the shop, greeted us both, then showed him a bulb or electrical connector. He’d give them a a code number and explain how to navigate their way through the thousands of boxes of electronic paraphernalia piled on shelves up every wall (and on the floor). They helped themselves, pocketed their purchases, told him what they’d taken, then headed off. I wondered whether they were partners or would sort out the money later, but it was too much work to figure out how to ask. He never wrote anything down, though at least fifteen items walked out the door while I was there.

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It took nearly a half hour to fix my hair dryer, which included soldering wires with an iron he heated against his electric floor heater.
When I asked what I owed, he said it was nothing, then offered me coffee. I promised I’d be back for coffee later and left a ten-lira note on the table ($6). Precious little for a half hour of his time.

Another happy customer in the Boğaziçi Elektrik shop~


Our last stop was the bakery, where the proprietor always slices up a loaf of Kepekli ekmeği (whole grain bread) with a smile. I bought a cheese-filled roll to share with Libby and a few of her street dog buddies on the way home.

Farewell, sweet bakery!


I’ll miss all these sweet Arnavutköy shops, which also include the cobbler who put new arches in my shoes, the butcher who tosses all his bones to the dogs, the tailor who took in my slacks, and the anahtarci who fashioned three sets of keys for my apartment. Actually, Margaret’s apartment, and it’s soon time to hand it back. Sigh…

Farewell to the Tuesday street market!

Farewell to the cobbler!

And Libby, of course, bids a fond farewell to all the Arnavutköy cats…

especially to Fat Cat, who lives just up the street.

Ah, Arnavutköy!

Twas the week before Christmas…in Istanbul

What does one share in Istanbul when friends have only a few days? Let me tell you, it’s a dilemma. I did my best, but you never know. My friends Jerry, Dan, and Lynette arrived last Thursday and indulged in a long afternoon walk before I arrived home from school, greatly relieved that they’d found their way. A man pulled Jerry aside at the baggage carousel (How did that happen?) and offered him a ride to Arnavutkoy for 450 lira (about $300). Jerry talked him down to $200, then informed him that he knew they could get a taxi for 40 to 50 lira. Shameful! I wondered how many tourists get pulled in on that one.

Thursday evening’s view of the Blue Mosque

My friends wanted to know how to take public transport into Sultanahmet, so we headed off. Once we arrived, they informed me that they were totally exhausted. Oops–what was I thinking? I took them to a carpet shop for tea and a rug show (oh, so tempting!),

I’ll never tire of looking at carpets.

then off to the Doy-Doy for a their first Turkish meal. They weren’t disappointed. It was still early enough to catch a ferry straight home, which saved us some hours on crowded public transport.
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My guests were on their own Friday, but on Saturday my friend David joined us for  the full monty of shopping in Sultanahmet: Leather jackets under the Laleli Mosque (where the leather dealer gifted me with a fur collar-wrap), then up to see the mosque and over to the Taş Han for a lunch of mezes and mercimek (hors d’oeuvres and lentil soup).

A man prayed in the Laleli Mosque

The Laleli Mosque viewed through the chimneys of the Taş Han

Then we were off to “scarf street” via a men’s hat store, a purse store, a towel-seller, and finally: TA-DA! SCARVES!!! We stopped for a rejuvinating beverage on our way back to Huseyin’s carpet shop (Harem 49) where we finalized a few purchases.

A rejuvenating cup of Turkish coffee

…and a unique wedding ensemble near the Grand Bazaar

Totally exhausted, we headed home on the overcrowded tram. We hurried across the road to catch our bus, and the driver started driving off before we were all on. ARAUGHHH!!! Relieved to be safely back in Arnavutköy, we toasted to friendship with a fabulous Bulgarian wine (thanks, David).
We slept in late Sunday morning, then walked down to the Fincan Cafe for a classic (noon) Turkish breakfast of cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, egg, bread, clotted cream, and honey. YUM!!!

That evening Jerry and Dan concocted a delectable eggplant, onion, garlic, tomato, and rice stuffing for dried eggplant shells that had captured their imaginations earlier in the day. Lynette and I were appropriately impressed; I do admire good cooking—and even more, people who enjoy doing it. I’m mostly partial to the eating part.

Ever had your fortune told by a rabbit? This one chooses a “fortune” from the rows of papers in this man’s hand–very scientific. Mine said “You will be lopressed by some sad news.” (among other things).

My guests explored the city for the next three days while I slaved at school (it’s actually not that hard), and on Wednesday Dan and Lynette left for Cyprus. The first evening they were gone, Jerry and Libby walked up the hill after school to me along the narrow stone-walled roadway. It was more than sweet.
That night Jerry and I trekked back up for the school Christmas party—mulled wine, Santa Claus, and a sumptuous meal (except for turkey so dry it totally dehydrated me—don’t tell the chef). Everything else, though, was lovely, including the company. We joined in Margaret’s Christmas song-fest in Marble Hall to top off the festivities.

This Bebek santa is a bit thin, but wishes you a Happy New Year. (Mutlu Yillar)

Today was our last day of school before an incredibly rare Christmas break (in Turkey it’s usually just a day off). Everyone was jazzed. My core English class had a gala Christmas party this morning, including delicacies baked by a few students. Why did I bother to eat breakfast? Gosh, I love those kids. All of them.

The entire class posed with their ancient English teacher

 

Woods 202 sported a sweet tree straight out of Charlie Brown’s Christmas.

It’s raining cats and dogs tonight, but tomorrow we leave for a sunny week on the Mediterranean—Antalya. We can’t wait. Neither can Libby.
I send a hearty Merry Christmas to all from the Blustery Bosphorus.

A busy week in Istanbul

Oh, what to write about? It’s winter, yet temps are in the 50’s as sunshine glints off the Bosphorus. All is well in my little Istanbul world—and busy.

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One night last week I heard the boza man calling out in the street again, “BO-ZA! BO-ZA! BO-ZA!” I grabbed my camera, a cup, and my coin purse (the three C’s) and raced down to the street. He came over to pour me a cup from his shiny metal canister and agreed to have his photo taken. I should’ve asked him how much it would cost BEFORE he poured my cup, because when I asked him, he said, “On lira.” (Ten lira, about $6).

The Boza man outside my door

“Çok pahalı!” I exclaimed (too expensive!) as I forked over a ten. I knew better. Oh, well. The boza was delicious, and I figured I was paying him for climbing up my steep hill.

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On Saturday I went into the city to pick up some gifts and towels. I’m a little short on towels for my soon-to-arrive guests, and anyway I wanted to buy a few havlu or peştemel, thin but absorbent cotton towels, a little like soft linen towels. I found a bamboo towel as well—softer than soft. I love it.

The Galata Tower

A fashion photographer and model near the tower

After shopping I found my way to Molly’s Cafe, just around the corner from the famous Galata Tower. Some Robert College teachers were doing a poetry reading, and though we were a small crowd, we were enthusiastic. There were even a few students.

The RC gang wait for the first reader at Molly’s Cafe

Michael sang his selections

Yes, there was also good humor (that would be Jake)

Afterwards my friend Güler and I found a nearby restaurant to share a cozy dinner in the shadow of the tower. We’d hiked all the way down to the tram before I realized I’d left my purchases up in the restaurant. Sigh… How like me! My forgetfulness is getting to be seriously habitual. Back up to the Galata tower… Before heading back down I treated myself to a cup of salep.

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The next morning I woke early to walk Libby and hike up to school for a trip to Dolmabahçe Palace with the residential students. Another teacher and I shivered with our 22 kids as we watched the changing of the guard, then snapped group photos by the famous Swan Fountain.

The changing of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

The grooming of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

22 RC Resident Students pose by the Swan Fountain

Then they proudly model their new palace footwear

Everyone got a charge out of the pink cellophane slippers we had to wear for our whirlwind (30-minute) tour of palace highlights (all in Turkish): the harem entrance, the bed where Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died (with a shiny new star and crescent satin bedspread), and the palace’s stunning ceremonial hall. It had the biggest chandelier I’ve ever seen, reputedly the heaviest one in the world. I was hoping they’d light it for us, but no luck. I’ve been told that this palace, the sultan’s effort to compete with Versailles, broke the bank for the Ottoman Empire. It’s incredibly ornate, with the added bonus of a location on the Bosphorus.

 

Yup, I was there, too!

After the tour I walked up to Beşiktaş to meet a friend for lunch, then hurried home to make my Sunday Skype calls, correct papers, and make a double batch of peanut butter balls for a Christmas cookie exchange.
As I was working, my doorbell rang, and a man from downstairs delivered a warm casserole of asure (pronounced “assure-A”). It’s a traditional Turkish gelatinous pudding chock full of raisins, hazelnuts, walnuts, dried fruits, and pomegranate seeds. Delicious. Apparently this is the season Turks make asure for their neighbors. Lucky me, huh? I’m saving some for my guests Jerry, Dan and Lynette, who arrive tomorrow. Can’t wait.

The delectable and famous Turkish asure. YUM!

Hot Drinks, etc.

Last Saturday night I was just settling into bed with my latest read, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, when I heard a voice calling from the street. The voice was unclear, so I went to the back bedroom and opened the window. “Boza! Boza!” a man called from the street below. He carried a metal canister much like a small milk can, as well as numerous metal jugs and mugs. It was the boza man, someone I’d heard of but never seen. I’d assumed he was a long-gone relic of Turkey’s past, but not so. There he was in the flesh. I was tempted to get dressed and go down to buy a mug, but I was too shy—and a bit weary. The boza man walked all the way up the hill (no easy task), then later I heard him again as he called his way back down the street. How sweet.

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I like boza, a fermented wheat or millet drink with a low alcohol content (about 1%). It looks like a thick egg nog, yet it has a tang to it. On one of Edda’s tours she took us to the historical and famous Vefa Bozacisi (1876) near the Sülymaniye Mosque. It looked  much like a pub, but they only sold one drink there—boza. Actually, they also sold bottled vinegar, but boza was their specialty.

The bozaci (boza man) at Vefa Bozacisi in Istanbul

They proudly displayed Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s boza mug in a special case on the wall. I understand boza is a particularly popular bedtime drink—hence, the boza man coming through at 9:30 Saturday night.

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I’ve been indulging in another drink many evenings, salep (no alcohol). I’ve written about it before—another Turkish specialty. It’s a sweetened hot milk drink with a unique flavor from an orchid root powder. Sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon, it’s sheer ambrosia.

My evening salep in a delicate Turkish cup, a gift from my friend Huseyn

Salep is sold on the street from onion-shaped brass samovars, and I love it. I make it at home with a powder, but it tastes even better on the street. It’s a winter delicacy here–a consolation for winter’s colder temps.

Salep straight from the samovar on the street.

Let’s see…fermented millet or orchid root? Quite different from the hot toddies and spiced cider we enjoy in the States, but lovely nonetheless.

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Libby and I had a quiet weekend by ourselves—bordering on lonely, I’m afraid. My social plans fell through, so we hung out evenings together, and we walked to Ortaköy Saturday morning, where I found another picture for my ‘hamam bathroom’ back home.

My latest artistic acquisition–a hamam (Turkish bath) painting from ages past

We meandered through the maze of streets filled with jewelry and knick-knack stands, stopping for a tost (sort of a panini-type grilled cheese sandwich) and tea before walking back home. I snapped a few photos along our way, and I hope you enjoy them.

The waterfront at Ortaköy

 

A fisherman checking his gear

Mussels on sale in an Ortaköy kiosk

A donkey (statue) mounted on sailboat in Kurkçeşme (on our walk home)

Someone broke the lock into the synagogue ruins, so I snapped a few photos…

 

I’m off to Slovenia with the debate team this week–looking forward to a new perspective on reality from one of the Soviet Bloc countries. I hear it’s absolutely lovely and that its capital, Ljubliana, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. We’ll be staying in a farm/vineyard in the country, which should also be an adventure. Oh, the joys of overseas teaching!
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Thanksgiving & Teacher’s Day

Thanksgiving Day in America is Teacher’s Day in Turkey.
I’ve never felt more honored than I do on Teacher’s Day, but it seems a shame to divide one day between two holidays. I guess that’s just the way it goes, huh?
Someone wrote and asked if I’d be having turkey, but I honestly don’t know. School lets out early for Teacher’s day, and Robert College parents are hosting a gala Teacher’s Day celebration at Bizimtepe (their country club adjacent to the school), complete with a lavish buffet of Turkish delicacies and an array  of adult beverages. Later we’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at school, and all fingers are crossed that someone will come up with a turkey.

I’m not taking any chances, though; I’m bringing the dressing—turkey-less, but dressing nonetheless. What’s Thanksgiving without bread stuffing? I mean, really! My mom’s was the BEST, and her secret ingredient was chopped apples. One year my aunt hosted Thanksgiving, and she had the audacity to put GIBLETS into the stuffing, ruining my entire holiday. My turkey-less stuffing has apples, but it’s a little lean on celery (I did finally find some). The good news, though, is that I found fresh sage. It’s called adaçayı here, which I think translates to ‘island tea.’ Whatever—it smells great. I had to crush it in my palms, filling the kitchen with a tempting eau de Thanksgiving.


Someone else asked if we had pumpkin pie here. Nope. My friend Arvid wrote on facebook about making pumpkin cheesecake (a step up from pie), and I must admit even the thought made my mouth water.
I have one even better than Arvid’s, though. A Turkish pumpkin treat. After the bayram break my student Pelinsu arrived at school with a package of kabak tatlısı (candied pumpkin) from her home in Antakya, an area known for that delicacy.  Ask if I felt honored. This sweet pumpkin dessert is one of my favorites here in Turkey, probably because it’s not overly sweet. Just for your information, Turkish pumpkins are big, white on the outside, and hard as rocks. Some stalwart soul peels and chops them into pieces, after which they are simmered in sugar syrup, grape molasses, or honey. The Kabak tatlısı is then cooled and served sprinkled with crushed hazelnuts or walnuts.
Pelinsu’s gift was a step up from the usual, a little more candied than I was used to, but problem yok! Here’s what a piece looked like fresh from the package:

When I found the recipe, I learned that Antakya kabak tatlısı has equal parts pumpkin and sugar, and it’s cooked until the kabak is almost translucent. VERY sweet. I like to cut sweetness with a little yogurt, so I cut up my kabak,

then dolloped each piece with a little yogurt (the yogurt here is sort of a cross between yogurt and cream),

and  sprinkled it all with nar (pomegranate) seeds for a spark of nutty tartness.

Let me tell you, pumpkin pie could never compete with this amazing delicacy. YUM!!!!!
When in Rome…

(Or Istanbul…)

 

Ottoman, Anka, and Pizza

As I sit writing in the overstuffed brown leather chair with my feet propped on its matching ottoman, I wonder why my footstool has the same name as Turkey’s centuries-long empire. In a quick hunt for the word’s etymology, and I find an unsatisfying explanation that the Ottomans liked reclining on long couches, so the name was attached to couches and eventually footstools. Hmph!

Enjoying the comfy chair and OTTOMAN

It’s been a busy week here, starting Monday evening with a Paul Anka concert. Four of us 50+ female teachers trekked across the city for this concert, wondering what we were thinking, not quite sure what to expect. Anka is no longer the wavy-haired pouty-mouthed fellow I remember, but a trim 70-year-old Tony Bennet look-alike.

 

The younger and the more recent Paul Anka

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He played his audience like a Las Vegas night club crowd, and we reveled in it. People shook his hand, danced with him, and we sang gleefully along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love.” Enthusiasm abounded in the packed auditorium of Turkish Paul Anka fans—an amazing concert.
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I never realized Paul Anka wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, as well as numerous other hits.  Apparently he kept writing after he left the limelight, developing deep friendships with stars like Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr.

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My biggest thrill this week, though, was Thursday evening when I hosted my thirteen resident students (students from across Turkey who live on campus) for dinner. I’d given them all maps to my apartment, and they began straggling in just as I was ordering pizza after racing home from an after-school meeting. I was on Yemek Sepeti.com (meaning: food basket), an amazing Turkish food delivery web site. There are nearly 200 restaurants that will deliver to my apartment in Arnavutköy, and there’s no extra charge for the service.

Many have a minimum delivery amount of about $5, but McDonald’s will deliver anything—even an order of fries. Amazing. Each of these restaurants has an online menu on the site, and every kind of food is available, from fast food to traditional Turkish foods to high-end fish dinners. Food delivery motorcycles toot up and down the hills of Istanbul day and night, let me tell you.

McDonald’s delivery scooters at the ready… (photo by Norma B.)

 

Anyway, three boys arrived early and helped me finish choosing the pizzas from Little Caesars (yes, we have it here). I ordered five large pizzas, which I thought would be plenty. Most of my guests were boys, though—teenaged boys. Had I forgotten about the bottomless teenaged stomach? I threw together a big salad, and everyone said they got enough to eat, though I wonder. Next time I’ll make a huge pot of stew or something.
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A few of my guests arrived bearing lavish bouquets, which have brightened my apartment all week—how incredibly sweet!

One of my stunning bouquets

One joy of this spacious apartment is that there’s room to entertain a crowd, and we had space for everyone to sit together around the living room. I taught them to play charades, and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Remember, lots of these kids have pretty shaky English, so there were plenty of mistakes and long Thinking Pauses. Ege had us all in stitches with his expressive gestures and facial expressions, mostly just while contemplating. Tuna was laughing so hard he had to leave the room.
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Libby and I walked everyone back up to campus (she’d been cheated of her early evening walk), and I felt a bit tearful as I bid them farewell. They all had homework, though—the never ending plague of the Robert College student. Many of them work 3-4 hours every night. They’re serious about education here; they see it as their job.

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That, my friends, was the highlight of my week, and I forgot to take photos. I was just too darned busy reveling in the warmth of these kids. Gosh, I love them.

 

I did take the camera on my morning walk with Libby, and I have a few photos to share from the area around our home here. Enjoy.

One of my favorite streets in town–The Antik Locanda restaurant.

The facade of our local Greek Orthodox Church, with services every week.

 

A local metal-polisher outside his shop.

And a photo of a produce truck that sells on a city street on Saturdays.

Cappadocia, Ataturk, and Iskender

Oh, my—it’s been an interesting few weeks! My friends Norma and Arvid just left for Minneapolis after a full schedule in Istanbul. During the Kurban Bayramı we trekked to Cappadocia, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It has amazing geological formations (fairy chimneys), warm people, and my favorite hotel, The Kelebek.

Ah, beautiful Cappadocia!

The lovely Kelebek Hotel in Göreme

The first day we explored Göreme and its fascinating Open Air Museum of ancient churches carved into the rock.

Me with the Open Air Museum behind me–no photos allowed inside the churches.

Part of a carved stone church with the walls broken away.

My friend Arvid atop a camel–Ride ’em Cowboy!

The next day we took a fascinating tour of more hidden churches, an archeological dig, and the underground city (with a delicious Turkish repast at noon). Sadly, neither Norma nor I was successful at managing the claustrophobic underground tunnels, but Arvid braved his emotional storm and made it eight stories down. Kudos to Arvid!

A carved stone church along our hike, this one with a dome–hence, it’s called the Domed Church.

An interior wall of one of the churches we visited.

The underground city–photo by Arvid, the only successful descender (of the three of us).

A woman we spotted along our hike, kneading or mixing something outside her home.

I have a little update on the Kurban Bayram. Although people are expected to use experienced butchers for the sacrifice, many attempt to slaughter animals on their own. My office compatriots informed me Thursday morning that several people had died during the sacrifice. One man was sacrificing a cow on a platform, and the platform collapsed , crushing him under the animal. Two more men suffered heart attacks while trying to control animals they were intending to sacrifice. Apparently 1000 people across the country were injured in the first two days of the bayram while trying to slaughter animals. Over 500 in Istanbul sought medical attention after either cutting themselves or being injured by their unruly victims. Apparently this is the darker side of the celebration.
Thursday (November 10) was Ataturk Day, the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death in 1938. It’s a big deal here in Istanbul, as he is the greatly revered founder of their country. At 9:05 everything stopped for a moment of silence in his memory. I was in class at the time, and as soon as we heard the sirens, we stopped what we were doing and everyone stood at silent attention until the sirens ended a few minutes later. Apparently it’s even more impressive in the streets. All traffic stops and people step out of their cars to stand at silent attention. I discovered a short video of that moment on an Istanbul street–check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvlDsHwSAFM

I have to admit, watching it brought tears to my eyes, probably because of how strongly it evidences this country’s reverence for the father of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I wonder if we Americans could ever come up with that kind of collective devotion to our country or its heroes. Doubtful. Maybe to the almighty dollar, though.
The only other thing I’m going to share today is the incredible dinner Arvid, Norma, and I shared on Friday evening. It was a cold, rainy day, but we still met at Eminönü to ferry across to Kadiköy for the original Iskender, a favorite dish in Turkey. It’s delightfully decadent.

Arvid and I eagerly anticipate a delicious platter of Iskender.

Start with crusty pide bread cut into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter. Cover that with a generous few layers of thinly-sliced döner, spiced layers of lamb roasted on a vertical spit. It’s like the Greek version used in gyro sandwiches, but the Turks insist it’s far better (like comparing steak to hamburger, according to Arvid’s Turkish friend Harun). That layer is slathered with a spicy tomato sauce and surrounded with sliced tomatoes, grilled peppers, and a hearty dollop of yogurt. It’s brought to the table on a hot platter, then  a waiter drizzles the entire plate with butter from a sizzling frying pan. Oh, my goodness! It’s the pinnacle of delicious.

Norma cheerfully dives in. (She couldn’t finish it all, but I had no problem.)

See the butter swimming under the bread and meat? Oh, yum!

Though Norma and Arvid had experienced a wide variety of delectable Turkish cuisine, this was by far their favorite. By the way, Iskender is named after Alexander the Great, who conquered Turkey for the Macedonian Empire around 300 BC. What a tribute, huh?
Thus ends yet another chapter of sharing Turkey—with my friends and with you. I have a quiet week ahead, but I’ll think of something to write about. I promise. I’m having my fourteen resident students for dinner this week. That will be an adventure in itself.

Kurban Bayramı 101

In a few days Turkey will celebrate Kurban Bayramı—a holiday I’d always found horrifying—riddled with roadside animal carcasses. I really didn’t get it. İrem Eren, my office mate, opened my eyes to the generous traditions of this holiday, and later I discussed  it with senior Özdemir Vayisoğlu, our Bosphorus Chronicle Editor. I think I’m starting to get it. It’s all about sacrifice and generosity.

My lovely colleague, İrem

 

İrem and Özdemir come from smaller cities and fascinated me with tales of what their families do. When I talked with my other students I learned that about a third of their families follow the traditions of bayram. İrem generously invited me to spend Kurban Bayramı with her family, which I would have loved if I hadn’t already made plans to travel to Cappadocia with my friends from the States.
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A little research revealed that Kurban Bayramı is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year. Celebrating Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, the head of each Turkish household sacrifices a sheep on the morning of the first day of the holiday. Though common all over Turkey, it’s less typical in the cities than in rural areas.

Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, offers a 100 lira discount on livestock shipments for bayram.

Özdemir explained that early on the first morning of the four-day bayram everyone goes to the mosque for a short prayer called bayramnamazı. After the prayer they gather to chat in the courtyard before heading home to prepare for the kurban—the sacrifice of an animal.
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Wealthier families hire someone to do the kurban. He recites something from the Koran, then (a-hem) slits the sheep’s throat. I noticed that neither Özdemir nor İrem chose to speak in those terms. They seemed sensitive about the slaughter, but it is what it is. İrem’s family has a butcher perform the kurban, which might be done on a sheep, a goat, or a cow (which might be purchased together by a few families).

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Özdemir explained that the hired man would cut up the meat into large pieces and and put into huge flat trays, which men carried into the house. There the women would divide the meat into smaller pieces and package it. In İrem’s family, her job is to make the labels for each package based on a long list they have compiled of people who they want to help.

Özdemir , Chief Editor of our school newspaper

Each sheep is divided into fifteen to twenty packets, a good deal of meat. Once the meat is packaged, it is immediately piled into the trunk of a car and delivered to the homes of the needy. Of course, some meat is kept behind for serving guests.

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Guests and visits. The rest of the holiday is spent visiting family, friends, and business associates. The women of the household have been baking and cooking for weeks to prepare for all the visitors. “We make a list of everyone we want to visit,” İrem explained. “It includes all the relatives and also friends and business associates. We usually have a list of about 100 people to visit in the three or four days of Kurban Bayramı. You just have about fifteen minutes to eat a little and have some tea. We usually have sweets at people’s houses, and you get so SICK of eating all the sweets. But you know Turkish hospitality. There’s no way you can say no, so you just eat some more,” Irem said with a smile.
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She went on to explain that when the people they are visiting aren’t home,  they leave a note to let them know you stopped by. She said her father cleverly hurries to the home of anyone he sees out visiting because then he can get by with just leaving  a note. With 100 people to visit, I can certainly understand.
Özdemir’s grandfather was a community and political leader, so his family often slaughtered two or three sheep. Until his grandfather died at 101, they stayed at home and let other people visit them. “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you 100 people visited my grandfather every day. We had to have a lot of food ready for everyone. I sometimes went out to visit my relatives, but there was always someone home with my grandparents.”
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I had to chuckle when my friend sent me a flyer from Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, advertising prices for sheep and cows, which varied according to the amount of meat and whether it was delivered or picked up at a store. The sheep looked so sweet that I couldn’t help but name them. “You can choose Irma or Edna or Eunice, or perhaps you’d prefer Bossy the cow.”

Yes, it’s a different world than most of us live in, but how often are we westerners so generous to strangers? Food for thought—pardon the pun.