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…

 

 

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!

On The Road to Taiwan

I’ve been in Taiwan nearly a week. My friend Sandra and I left Istanbul at midnight Friday, arriving in Hong Kong about 9 hours later. We were impressed by their lavish Chinese New Year decorations—mostly gold and red.

Decorations at the Hong Kong airport:

After posing with the brilliant displays, we tried to cash in our “refund” for the departure tax, which we’d learned was refundable for people arriving and departing Hong Kong on the same day. That would be us. I’d jotted 7th level, row D, but of course the desk wasn’t there. In spite of the New Year’s crowds, we forged on, asking people until we found it. The lady at the desk said we didn’t have the right papers, and to go to the ticketing desk for a new receipt. Thanks to Sandra’s perseverance, we found that desk (no line, thank goodness), had her print up new receipts for us, and trekked back to the first desk. The woman nodded when she saw us, made multiple copies of our receipts, our passports, and our boarding passes for both flights, highlighted important information, and filled out yet another form. Really! It took her well over ten minutes, but in the end we each got 120 Hong Kong Dollars (about $15). It must have cost the airport authorities far more to process it, but the Starbuck’s frappucino tasted GREAT!

Even Starbuck’s had Chinese New Year decorations:

We arrived at our hotel in Taipei around midnight Saturday night (after 18 hours traveling), and amazingly found our way on public transport to our hotel. We collapsed into our lush room at the Hansome (Han-She) Hotel. and barely woke in time to catch breakfast, which was pretty Chinese (lots of indescribable dishes). We managed scrambled eggs, peanuts, sesame-covered dried/sweetened carrots, and who-knows-what-else. Thankfully, they had an espresso machine.

Pretty nice digs at the Hansome Business Hotel:

We headed off with Linda Kuiken (our friend teaching in Taiwan) for the National Palace Museum. Between the first and second world wars, many of China’s finest treasures were removed from the Forbidden City Palace (Beijing) and brought to Taiwan for safekeeping, and now nearly a third of China’s great art and artifacts are housed in this museum. It also got us out of the drizzle. Actually, there has never been a palace in Taiwan, so the name is a misnomer.

National Palace Museum, Taipei:

Sandra, Les, Linda, Chris (Linda’s sister) and me in front of the Museum steps:

Next we headed for the harbor, but the rain drove us into a Starbuck’s (only Western businesses were open—everything was closed for the Chinese New Year). We ended up wandering a bit and discovered a few temples and shrines, then strolled down a narrow street where vendors sold street food. My favorite was the cooked quail egg shish-ka-bob slathered with soy sauce. We also watched people burn fake money in little buckets to honor their ancestors.

Ah, Chinese street food:

Quail eggs, cooked in the ’round’ and stacked on a skewer:


Chinese fake bills, folded and made into lanterns~money to burn:

On the way back to our hotel we came to the frightening realization that the restaurants were all closed. We wandered the deserted, rainy streets hoping to find something edible and ended up dining at KFC. “I travel 1200 miles to Taiwan for the Chinese New Year, and I end up eating KFC chicken, for cripes sakes!” Sandra moaned. Well, it was food, and we were starved.

 Neither Sandra nor our new friend Joe was too excited about KFC:

The highlight of our first day in Taipei was the lantern festival at Longshan Temple. Although it was still drizzling, hundreds of people gathered to pray, chant, sing, and honor their ancestors at this ancient temple, probably the most famous in Taipei. As we snapped photo after photo, people lit candles and incense, nodding and praying as a monk led their worship.

The Longshan Temple, Chinese New Year’s Eve:

Lighting incense from candles in the temple:

A Buddhist praying at the temple, a dragon behind her:

The temple was not only filled with people, but also with offerings of food and flowers—everywhere. As we watched in fascination, a huge fireworks display was set off just outside the front gate of the temple. It was all amazing. Then afterwards officials paraded through displays of lit-up models of the animals that represent each of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac. The largest, of course, was the dragon, as 2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

Fireworks through the window at the Longshan Temple:


On Monday we gathered early to trek to Taipei 101, the world’s second tallest building. Luckily, it was one of the few things open, since it was the actual Chinese New Year’s Day. We rode the fastest elevator in the world up 89 floors, as the observation deck was closed due to weather. It took 37 seconds. The elevator can go over 1000 meters per minute, and it’s a smooth ride—a real ear-popper, though. We could only see in one direction, as much of the city was blanketed in fog. Sigh… It was fun anyway.

Me, Sandra, Chris, and Jana in a “stolen” photo at Taipei 101:


The elevator had a video showing our progress and speed as we whizzed up the building:

The most attractive of our Thai meals: Curried Shrimp:

After a delicious Thai lunch (we still hadn’t had a Taiwanese meal) we headed off to take a gondola to see the city from a mountaintop. The wait was only a half hour because the weather was so bad (and clouds would hamper the views). The ride was gorgeous, though, and we could see fingers of the city poking between the mountains.

We found a very traditional tea house for our obligatory cup of tea, and the waitress gestured for us to walk across a little pond, hopping from stone to stone, to enter the eating area. She showed us into a small, ornately-furnished room with a low table and silk cushions. We settled in with as little bone-creaking as possible, then puzzled over what to do next. Oops! Shoes… We snuck them off and set them on the steps leading into our room. The waitress returned with a wooden tray of snacks (probably expensive), and told us there was a surcharge of $150 each (about $4.50 American), which we assumed was for the cushions. Tea would cost an additional $350 for the five of us, and we chose Oolong.

The accoutrements for tea brewing at our tea house:

None of us really knew just how to brew the tea, but we figured that we should put loose tea into the pot, then pour water over it. I remembered that Mayu taught me to pour off the first water, so we did that. Then Janna poured water over the tea and we let it steep a while as we chatted and enjoyed the stunning mountaintop view. We strained the tea into a pitcher, then poured it into the taller of the two cups we were each given. From there we poured it into a small cup and took a sip. It tasted like silage. Wet silage. Hysterics abounded.

Jana poured water over a over-full teapot of Oolong:



“Maybe we used too much tea,” Chris suggested. “How about if we water it down a bit?”
We did.
“Better,” I said after a tentative sip. “At least palatable.”
We each choked down a few cups of the tea, agreeing that it was all about the experience more than the taste. We brought our leftover Oolong back for Sandra, who didn’t make it to the top of the mountain.
Tuesday we basked in hot springs, then hopped the evening high-speed train to Kaohsiung, where Linda and Les live at the south end of Taiwan. Oh, such larks!

 

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.

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!

Slovenia and then…

No one told me that Slovenia was one of the most picturesque countries in Europe. I’d heard that Ljubljana was lovely, so I was quick to sign on to chaperone a debate trip there. Debate coach Janet Schaefer shared the supervision of six tenth-grade debaters (all girls).

Janet at the Ataturk Airport, with a UNICEF star–an Istanbul  fund-raiser

The debate was in Ljutomer (the ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’), a small city in the NE corner of this tiny country, about 200 kilometers from Ljubljana. In case you don’t know, Slovenia is bordered by Italy on the west, Austria (and the Alps) on the north, Hungary on the northeast, and Croatia and the Adriatic Sea on the south. Views were stunning as we meandered through mountain villages, each with its Bavarian-looking onion-domed cathedral.

The Ljutomer Cathedral, both exterior and interior views:

 


We stayed on the Frank-Ozmek farm, where were welcomed by hosts Vili and his mother Vida, both charming.


The foggy Frank-Ozmec Farm (and horse)

One of their welcoming recycled wine barrels

The fabulous cook, Vida–unassuming and gracious:


Vida didn’t speak English, but she made up for it by preparing sumptuous meals. We devoured homemade breads and soups (Oh, her savory potato mushroom soup!), salads gleaming with their own pressed pumpkin oil, homemade sauerkraut, stuffed pork loins, schnitzel, potatoes to die for—I could go on and on.

Typical Slovenian fare, photo from a roadside stop–lots of potatoes and meat

A little high on fat and sparse on vegetables, but what the heck. When in Rome… (and diet when you get home) We even tried duck eggs, and there was a generous supply of homemade wines—though not for the girls. Vida said they’d bottled 12,000 liters of wine last season.

A warm welcome from the Ljutomer High School:


The girls won about half their debates, and they were quite a hit at cultural night when they taught everyone to dance the halay, a popular Turkish folk dance. It was Damla’s sixteenth birthday that night, so we treated everyone to a splendiferous chocolate cake with orange marmalade filling.

Our girls demonstrating the halay–soon to be joined by a long line of participants

(Ege, Lara, Damla, Ece, Cansu, and Pelin)


Sunday morning we arranged a private morning tour of Ljubljana. The sun, hidden behind a dense fog for three days, finally broke through for us. We rode the funicular up to tour the Ljubljana Castle,

A view of the castle and city from the Tower ramparts:

Pelin, Cansu, Damla, and Lara atop the tower:

And their descent back down the spiral stairs–

 then our driver/guide Marco brought us into the old city, where we wandered through a Christmas market that meandered along the river through the Medeival Old City.

Me posing on one of the city’s ancient bridges over the Ljubljana River:

We finished our tour by touching the tail of the dragon that guards the bridge, a reminder that Jason and the Argonauts slayed a dragon there in ages past. Well, he might have…

Dragon bids us a final farewell.



Our flight was late coming home, and we were exhausted. Maybe that’s why it happened. I grabbed a taxi from campus to pick up Libby and drive us home, but when I got to my front door—no key! No backpack!!! ARAUGHH!!!!!! I screamed for the taxi to wait, but no pack. I must have left it in the service bus from the airport.

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Libby had a sore paw, so I carried her the half-mile to campus to retrieve my hidden key, falling flat on my face when I tripped on the speed bump. I was WIPED—but luckily, not badly hurt. I got into the apartment and took stock. The pack had my computer, my camera, my cell phone (as well as the school’s), gifts for people who had subbed for me, student projects, and about 800 Euros. I was pooched. I tried to convince myself that it was only “things”, but the reality was that if it wasn’t found, I’d be out about $4000. What a dope.
When I couldn’t sleep, I made myself a hot cup of salep, only to spill it all over the quilt and the bedroom floor. Cleaning up the mess woke me up even more, but I treated myself to yet another cup–more carefully.

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The next morning (after oversleeping nearly two hours) I went to the Gursel service bus office at school, where Murat kindly searched out the phone number of our driver, called him, and learned that he had checked the bus and found nothing.

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TOTAL PANIC! I turned next to the headmaster’s secretary, who contacted the guards, the local taxis, and began her own investigation, while I climbed up to my office and tried to settle down and do some schoolwork. Right. By then I was a basket case, shaking from the inside out.

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At 10:00 I got a call from Murat. They had located my pack. RELIEF! “I’m sorry, but I can’t pick it up until tomorrow. You will have it at the end of the day. Is that O.K.?”

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“No problem!” I exclaimed. “I’m just thrilled you found it. How can I thank you?”

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“This is my job,” he said. “I’m happy to help you.”

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The next afternoon I went down to Murat’s office, and there it was, waiting patiently for me. He had me check to see that everything was there, and it was, down to the last euro. Amazing.

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“Is there someone I can reward for this?” I asked.

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“Of course not,” he replied. “What we always say is that Gürsel is your home. We are happy to help you.”
What can I say?

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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