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?

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.

Ethiopia-Hosanna

I’ve been here a week and a half now, and I’m settling into a routine, though never without adventure. The food here is sensational (though I’ve had one intestinal blip—fresh tomatoes in a potato salad, I think), but other than that I’m happy and healthy.

Last weekend Matt and I explored the city—miles of it—on foot. We took a mini-bus to Mexico (a central square) for about 12 cents, then hoofed it. Our first stop was for macchiato (see photo) for about 35 cents each, then we hiked about an hour to another spot where we stopped for lunch of injera, which is a huge thin pancake (about 18 inches across) made from tef, a highly nutritious grain grown only in Ethiopia. It’s spread on a large tray and dolloped with different dishes and sauces. You rip off a bit of injera with your right hand, then scoop a bit of a dish or two into it, then enjoy it. My favorites are the vegetable dishes, but there are some mighty delicious meat stews and lentil dishes that I’ve tasted as well.

macchiato

The 12¢ macchiato.

Ethiopian injera.JPG

A delectable meal of injera with numerous toppings. YUM!

Many Ethiopians eat injera for every meal, but unfortunately many of them survive on one meager meal a day (if that). The poverty here continues to affect me deeply.

At any rate, our lunch of injera, beer, and a machiatto cost us a whopping $2 each (or was it $3?) We spent the rest of the day touring some fascinating churches and exploring new areas of the city, finally landing at the Addis Ababa Restaurant, where we indulged in a meal of injera with tej (the local honey wine—tasted a little musty to me, but we choked it down, stalwart drinkers that we are).

Matt and I were joined by two women on Saturday—Bea, a pediatrician from Madison, and Beth, a public health nurse from Minneapolis. They’ve both been very involved with international adoptions, and Bea has volunteered here in the past, so she’s been a great Addis guide. She’s introduced us to some fine restaurants and other sites. Today she’s taking us shopping before she and Beth return home escorting a baby for someone in Iowa. We’ll miss them.

Our past few days have been an incredible adventure. We took a Children’s Home Society bus to Hosanna to visit the their orphanage and school in that very poor city. Hosanna has a population of 100,000, most of whom are incredibly poor. The drive down was beautiful, and it gave us a true picture of Africa. Most of the traffic we encountered was foot traffic—both people and animals.

highway traffic.JPG

Though most of the street traffic was human, we saw the occasional herd of four-footed creatures.

Hosanna main street traffic.JPG

A city street in Hosanna—foot traffic predominates everywhere, as there is 1 car per 1000 people in Ethiopia.

We left at 6 A.M., and along the way we saw hundreds of school children walking to school, many barefoot with dirty ragged clothes, but all dressed in a colored vest or sweater, their school uniform. Many walk miles to school each day, so tardiness is overlooked. Just getting there is a huge accomplishment. Statistically, only 33% of boys and less than 20% of the girls in Ethiopia attend school, one of the lowest rates of enrollment in the world. When I saw what they go through to attend, I can understand why. Many are kept home to work.

We stopped often along the way for numerous cows, goats, burrows and sheep on the road, many being driven to market or traveling to find water, a scarce commodity in the area. We saw a few trickling, muddy rivers, and I assume there were occasional wells. Water has to be transported long distances to the orphanage and school in Hosanna.

Boy transporting water by wagon

Though carts were a rare sight, this one carried numerous water jugs, managed only by a small boy.

Most of the homes we passed were mud huts built with eucalyptus poles. We saw a number of “lumber yards” along our route, but none had lumber—just piles of eucalyptus poles. Many of the mud huts were rectangular (averaging about 12 X 16 feet) with corrugated metal roofs, but we saw hundreds of more traditional round huts with thatched roofs. In the city, most of the homes were square huts with corrugated roofs.

African mud hut

A country house–rather nice, mud over eucalyptus poles (you can see them on the outside)

mud hut-2

A city house–mud over eucalyptus poles, with the orphanage up the road.

After checking into our hotel (the nicest one in Hosanna—quite new and very clean for $11 a night), we headed to the orphanage. While the doctors and social workers did check-ups and met with the staff about water and nutrition issues, I stepped into the room for 6 month to 18-month-olds. There were eight beautiful babies in there with two very loving nannies who welcomed me with broad smiles. Each baby has his/her own little wooden bed sitting on the floor, except for the oldest (about 15 months, I think), who was toddling around and slept in a crib with high sides.

Lemma International Hotel

The exclusive Lemma International Hotel in Hosanna–$11 a night

Hosanna street scene

The view across the street from the hotel—note the man on the left gesturing to me not to take photos.

Most of the babies were very responsive and enjoyed being played with and loved. These children are well cared for, let me tell you. Oh, how I wished I could take photos, but it was not to be. 10-month-old Bereket laughed and laughed yesterday as I pulled her to her feet, and she cried her little heart out when I left her. Oh, my goodness. I learned all of their names, and watched as one little girl took some of her first steps. These are some lucky children.

Mussi Children's Home--Hosanna-2

The new Mussi Children’s Home Orphanage in Hosanna, for babies up to 18 months.

This morning I met the parents of one little girl I’d played with. Unfortunately, They’ll only get to meet her and go to court to be interviewed, then they go back to LA to wait until all the paperwork is done. At that point (probably six months from now), they’ll return to bring her home. She’ll be walking by then, I’m sure.

Nearly all of these orphans are developmentally delayed, as they’ve come from incredibly difficult circumstances. Most arrive malnourished, and many have been neglected. Their stories are harsh—I’m editing their background reports as a part of my work here in Addis, and it’s not pretty. The good news is that they’re now cared for and loved.

Hossana children.JPG

These children asked me to take their photo. I wondered if the little girl attended school with the baby on her back, though she isn’t wearing the red sweater/uniform, so probably doesn’t attend school.

In the afternoon we visited the “sister” orphanage for children from 18 months up, and that was a little more chaotic. I managed to organize “Ring Around the Rosie” with them, did activities like “hands up, hands down,” etc, and a few more songs, but mostly they wanted to hang on me, turn on my indiglo watch, and hold my hands. They had lots of toys, but I could see they were a real handful for their three nannies—I think there were probably 20+ children there, and more supervision would have been great for them. Of course, I think I made things more chaotic just by being there. I tend to do that. Someone has been teaching them gymnastics, because many of them called out “Mama!” so I would watch them as they performed somersaults, handstands, headstands, and cartwheels. One younger girl went to the wall and walked her feet up the wall with her hands on the floor—too sweet. I was there about an hour, and by the time I was done, I was BUSHED!

Hosanna laundry ladies.JPG

No photos of the children, but these happily-employed ladies were hanging the children’s laundry in the yard of the orphanage.

The second day I visited the Hosanna School, which is funded by adoptive parents from the U.S. It is a tuition-free school exclusively for children from food-insecure homes (one meal a day or less), many of whom are orphans living with relatives or at the orphanage. It’s a lovely little school in the outskirts of Hosanna, and presently 215 children ages 4-15 constitute 7 classes. They’re divided by academic skills rather than age, so there can be a 5-year range in one classroom. Each year they’ll add another class of students.

grade 4, Hosanna School-6

Teacher! I know the answer!—the Hosanna School for children of food-insecure families

grade 3, Hosanna schoolA young boy quite pleased with his exam score

The behavior of the students was impeccable, and each class stood when I entered to welcome me. “Welcome to our school, Guest. We are happy to meet you.” I interacted with them a little, then just observed and took photos. The bright classrooms and caring teachers were truly impressive. The students tend a huge vegetable garden that supplements their daily lunch with fresh produce.

Hosanna school after greeting me.JPG

One of the younger classes just after greeting me. The little girl on the left had a sore on her neck and wanted to hide it.

library, Hosanna School

The Hosanna School is proud of this library, which is in dire need of books.

Lunchroom poster.JPG

This precious lunchroom poster says it all. These children get two meals each day as well as an education.

Again, I have to finish by saying that I’m incredibly impressed with the service of the Children’s Home Society in Ethiopia. They’ve impacted thousands of children and created hundreds of jobs for Ethiopians. I’ve been told by many that they are the best adoption/service organization operating in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because the government is clamping down on adoptions and because of the state of the economy, their income flow is greatly compromised, so they’re forced to make some cuts. We all hope more volunteers and more donations will help them through this crisis.

boy minding the herd
This little boy doesn’t get to attend school—too much work to do. Note his oversized boots.

An apology and an introduction

I’ve been slacking on this blog since I got home (last July), thinking there was little reason to continue it. Little did I know I could also use it as a platform for making contacts for my new memoir (yet to be finished) about my years in Turkey.

I just attended a Writer’s Digest Convention in New York last weekend, and I learned that if I want to interest an agent in this project, I have to build a huge “platform” of many thousands of contacts I can use to promote the book when it comes out–followers, so to speak. In spite of the fact that I’m scared shitless of Twitter, I’ve just joined and I already have eleven followers. Now I just need to figure out what to post. I don’t really use a cell phone, so it’s going to be just computer messaging. In due time…

As for the memoir, I’ve written just over 40,000 words, so I’m about half done. I think what I’ll do is start posting excerpts here on my blog in hopes that some of my friends will start following me again. So—for your information and edification, here’s a bit of the introduction to my book. If you have suggestions, please share them with me.

So—

Ta-Da!!!

THE BIG DECISION~ Introductory ramblings

by Ann Marie Mershon

Ann Marie over Istanbul

“Why Turkey?” my son said with a tone of doubtful concern. His reaction reflected that of many friends and family when informed of my move.

“Oh, I’m jealous! Turkey is my favorite place in the entire world,” was another reaction—this from people who had been there.

So—Why Turkey?

One of the silver linings of my divorce after 32 years of marriage was the freedom to teach abroad. I’d long dreamed of teaching in another country, but my husband was unable—read unwilling—to make that shift. My tight finances as a single also meant at least three extra years of teaching, so I decided to treat myself to a grand finale. I would teach overseas—a reward for 30 years of dedication to thousands of adolescents and their fluctuating devotion to literature and writing.

In the spring of 2003 I attended a session on international teaching at an English teachers’ convention. My heart pounded as I scribbled copious notes. Moderators Bob and Carol Strandquist had taught in both England and Norway, and after tantalizing us with fascinating tales, they shared information about websites, fellowships, and recruiting fairs. I was a bit jealous of them. Why hadn’t I married a teacher interested in overseas teaching? At the same time, I was eager for my own adventure. The next day I registered with TIE Online and the University of Northern Iowa, the cheapest and most accessible recruiting tools available. I paid their fees and posted my resumé on both sites.

Then I waited.

I set my sights on Spain, since I wanted to improve on my paltry knowledge of Spanish. Barcelona sounded exciting, so I sent them a resume. In the spring of 2004 my district was in the midst of disheartening contract negotiations, and my heart fluttered when TIE Online posted a drama opening at a mountain chateau school in the Alps. Unfortunately, I’m responsible. I was committed to another year in Grand Marais, so I swallowed my excitement and stayed put.

I puttered around online regularly, soon receiving queries from overseas school directors.

Enter John Chandler, the director of the Koç School in Istanbul, Turkey. (Pronounced Coach) He sent an e-mail encouraging me to consider a position at his school. Koç? Weird name. Istanbul? Pretty exotic. I wasn’t even quite sure where it was, much less whether I wanted to go there. I searched it out in my National Geographic Atlas, then visited the school’s website. Hmmm…nice apartments, good pay… Maybe I’d consider it. I envisioned dark-mustachioed Bedoins galumphing across the desert on camels. Probably not.

Mr. Chandler courted me online, showing far more interest than any other school director. I’m good at responding to emails, but he was better. I had an encouraging reply within minutes of every message I sent. Koç looked intriguing. I pored through the information he sent, wondering whether I was willing to give up my dream of teaching in Barcelona, Salzburg, or Paris. Barcelona with its captivating Gaudi buildings, Salzburg with its Blue Danube and snow-capped Alps, or Paris’s cobbled streets with the Musé d’Dorsay and street cafes. I had a love affair with Europe, but this guy seemed to think I was perfect for his school. I read his interest as genuine and heartfelt. I think it was. Chandler is an intuitive reader of people, and he knows what he wants.

Finally in February of 2005 I was flying through a snowstorm to the University of Northern Iowa International Recruiting Fair in Waterloo, Iowa. Waterloo is far from picturesque, especially in a February freeze, but the conference was incredible. Over 600 teachers and 160 school directors filled the convention center on that first day. As I perused  my information (reams of school descriptions) and sifted through the latest openings, my mind raced. What did I want? Would I get a job? What if I didn’t? Every teacher had a folder filled with notes from school directors, invitations for interviews, etc. I decided to pass on the Koç position because of a reference to rote learning; I wouldn’t compromise my teaching philosophy with drills and memorization. Not for two whole years. And why would I want to live in a country that bordered Iraq? Like it or not, America was at war there. And then there was the Islam thing. I sure didn’t want to wear a scarf. Yup, I’d avoid the Mid-east. It would be good old Western Europe for me! Barcelona or Paris would be just fine, thank you.

I found John Chandler on the arena floor at his school’s table. He was distinguished—white-haired and thin-lipped. I introduced myself and apologetically cancelled my interview. He nodded and smiled knowingly. “Can I ask why?”

“It’s the rote learning,” I said. “I’m a hands-on teacher; I prefer active learning and inquiry in my classroom.” (I wasn’t going to mention the Islamic thing—probably politically incorrect.)

“That’s exactly why we’re interested in you,” he said. “You must have misunderstood. We frown on rote learning. That information was about the dersani classes the seniors attend after school and weekends. Our system is dedicated to stimulating and involving them. You might want to reconsider. Why not take a look at Koç?”

Well, I did. I took a good look, and I liked what I saw. After two interviews with John Chandler and incoming director, Tony Paulus, I was offered a position. I was also offered three other positions.

I chatted with experienced international teachers about my options. “You can’t pass up an opportunity to teach in Istanbul,” one said. “It’s a cultural mecca,” said another. “If I could get a job in Istanbul, I’d go yesterday,” one man told me. Another teacher was familiar with the Koc School and spoke highly of it. Hmmm…

I called Luana Brandt, a former teaching compatriot who had traveled throughout Europe and Asia. I thought she might lend another perspective. When I shared my four options, she responded immediately. “Istanbul. No question.” That clinched it. Everyone had pointed the way, and I would be a fool not to follow.

Turkey it would be.

Old Fogies kayak the Apostles

The sixth annual Old Fogies Lake Superior Kayak Trip challenged us—at least a bit. We had a few handicaps this year: I was just over a month beyond foot surgery, Dick has a bum hip, and Annie has temperamental elbows and shoulders (due to an oversized kayak). Jini and Mike seemed to be in pretty good shape, but there’s always the spectre of arthritis haunting us. Could we actually BE Old Fogies? We range from 59 to 69. Hmmm…
Because we couldn’t get out until September, we decided to return to the relatively protected area of the Apostles, hoping to visit the islands we’d missed on our first trip. The weather had been stellar for weeks before our trip, so we had high hopes it would continue.

It didn’t.

Sigh…

Maggie'sMe and Mike and Maggie’s flamingoes
Late Thursday afternoon (after a DELICIOUS lunch in Bayfield at Maggie’s Restaurant–decorated to the hilt with flamingoes) we pulled into the Little Sand Bay, our destination. We hauled our kayaks down to the beach and loaded untold amounts of gear into them, a process called “staging.” According to Mike, we finished in record time. As we cast off from shore, we wondered about the six men who’d loaded their kayaks up on the lawn near their cars. Though it’s a chore to haul gear down to the beach, it’s FAR more difficult to carry 150+ pound loaded kayaks. To each his own.

staging


My kayak and the gear that will go into it.

We donned our rain gear, and a mist began to fall as we paddled the six+ miles to our campsite. The guys pushed on ahead while Annie, Jini, and I took our time crossing, ecstatic with the glee of a new adventure. The mist abated as we approached Sand Island, where we were rewarded with shoreline sea caves. It’s virtually impossible to pass a sea cave without exploring; we took our sweet time enjoying the echoes, splooshes, and challenges of paddling through them.

caves


Sea caves along Sand Island

Our first trial was paddling around the northerly point of the island into the wind, where crosswinds created a jumble of multi-directional waves, peaking erratically. Challenging, but VERY fun! We had to focus on the waves, so we could only steal quick glances at the picturesque Sand Island Lighthouse perched high on the point.

Sand lighthouse

Sand Island Lighthouse


FINALLY! We reached our campsite before dark, well aware that it might be our home for the next few nights. We’d been warned of high winds to come and expected to be windbound. Luckily, both Mike and Dick have weather radios, and we did daily checks on weather and small-craft warnings. Our campsite was in a protected cove where we couldn’t really see the waves, but we were later told that ten-foot waves were reported on Friday.



Needless to say, we spent two nights on Sand Island. To fill our non-paddling days, we hiked. Down the beach, over to the lighthouse, and around the island (at least the others did—my foot wasn’t up to more than a few kilometers of hiking at a stretch, so I only walked the beach and to the lighthouse).

wlking Sand beach
Walking Sand Island beach

Saturday the sun was high and the waves were, too. We were disappointed, but our radio informed us that the waves would abate later in the afternoon. We decided to enjoy the sunshine and then pack up our gear. We would have our big evening meal at noon, then be ready to cast off when things looked safe. I think we launched about 2:00 for a 14-mile paddle to Rocky Island. The good news is that the wind was with us, though we felt a bit more like surfers than kayakers.

Mike sunning-SandMike reads on a rock as we wait for the waves to calm down


We were totally exhausted when we rounded the sandy point to our destination (leeward, thank goodness) on Rocky. Lo and behold, there were no less than 12 sailboats moored just down from the first campsite.

Rocky sunsetSunset from our campsite on Rocky Island

We had no reservation there, but we assumed that since it was 6:00 p.m. we could take any available campsite. The first site was located just off the beach, it was close, and it had great tent sites. We heaved a great sigh of relief, hauled our food to the bear box, unloaded our lunch packs, and dove in. YUM! After imbibing in both food and drink, we got the tents up just before the sun set.

Imagine our surprise when two shadows emerged from the dark just offshore, paddling our way. OOPS!!! They had, indeed, reserved this campsite, but they kindly offered to camp on the beach nearby. “Don’t worry. We’ll just wait for the ranger to leave. We prefer the beach anyway.” This considerate pair of brothers from Chicago refused our offer to join us in our site and waited until the ranger’s boat left the cove. Whew! Were we lucky! They could have made a real stink about us taking the site, but they WERE really late.

Rocky siteOur lovely Rocky Island campsite—after breakfast


The morning brought calm waters. Hooray! We indulged in a big breakfast of bran muffin/pancakes, then walked the beach, watching the birds and exploring the island. Mike took off on a 20-mile trek to North Twin and Outer Island, while the rest of us lollygagged before heading out on the short 6-mile paddle to Cat Island.

lone cedar-South Twin

A fascinating lone cedar along the shore of South Twin, imagine two nearby eagles shrilling to each other…

Our campsite on Cat had a beautiful sand beach, but the cooking area and tent sites were high up on the hill in the woods. No picnic table—bummer. We had to fix food on top of the rusty old bear box. Halfway up the hill was a moldering toilet–our joke for the day. It was our first real latrine—a system of composting where we’d toss in a handful of “forest duff” after each use. The base of it was open, though screened from insects and bears, and believe it or not, it didn’t stink. Good thing.

moldering toilet

The Deluxe Moldering Toilet, complete with instructions

Just as we were wondering how late Mike would be, he pulled up on the beach. He’d said he’d be back by 6:00, and it was 6:05. Of course, we gave him grief for being late. Why not? We were joined by a few sailboats moored off the beach (It was Labor Day weekend), and they made a point of visiting the famous toilet. Three of the boats were peopled by Single Christians who were there for some serious socializing. They couldn’t outdo us, though—in fact, one of them walked over to ask what we’d been laughing about so hysterically. “Inside joke,” Dick explained. We felt it a bit too ribald for single Christians (something about Dick’s little orange hot-dog tent). Actually, we dissolve into hysterical laughter at least daily. This trip it was often over the Dick and Mike Show: two drunks at a Wisconsin bar. Guffaw.
Dick and I sat up with the trip’s first campfire until late that night–nearly 9:30 (we were usually in our tents around 8:00).

campfireAh, FINALLY—a camfire!

Dick roused us all at 6:30 with a report that we needed to race through breakfast and get on the water, as the waves were going to increase to 4-6 feet by afternoon. ARAUGHHH!!! Man, did we MOVE! Cold breakfast (thanks, Jini), pack up, and off we flew. The wind was behind us, and the waves were already 2-3 feet high, amazing after the calm of the previous day.
We tried to stay together, but it wasn’t easy, especially since Jini and I decided to break the trip up with a short stop to investigate a STELLAR campsite on the south tip of Ironwood Island. The waves grew, and once we were closer to each other, we would lose sight of everything but heads–big waves. Mike was busy surfing them, smart-alec. He set a plan of action for landing in the high waves at our Oak Island campsite. He would go in first, then each of us in turn would ride a wave onto the sand, hop quickly out of the kayak, and those on the beach would pull it up before the next wave crashed. Annie made the mistake of standing up IN her kayak and was thrown off balance when they yanked her kayak up. Oops! No injuries–just laughter.

M&A cooking

Annie and Mike prepare a delectable Breakfast for us.

It was a nice campsite, except for the wind, which pounded us head-on. I now understand how women on the prairie would go crazy from the wind. We got rid of our wet clothes, bundled up, then sat in the sun to enjoy a late lunch. Once again, we were totally exhausted. According to Dick’s GPS, we had done 8 miles in two hours with a top speed of over six miles an hour. Thank-you, Wind!

tarp silouhetteBehind the tarps on Oak Island
Jini and I pitched our tent in a quiet clearing back near the loo (wind blew away any odors), and by the second night, Annie and Mike joined us back there. We set up a rain tarp and a wind tarp, and there was a small area behind them where the wind was just tolerable. It was better to be back in the woods. We all headed up to the Overlook during the afternoon, marveling at the unique forest of hemlocks, maples, and birch.

Hemlock

“THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms”

-from Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Mushrooms abounded as well–it was gorgeous. Later we did our share of reading and napping in hammocks and tents. Even back in the woods, though, the chilling wind shortened our hammock sojourns.

coral mushroomA coral mushroom, growing on a downed tree


fungiFlowery-looking fungus on a downed tree

We knew we’d be windbound another night, so we took our time with cocktail hour and meals—always with the added treat of the Dick and Mike show. What a pair!
We’d hoped the wind would die down during the night on Wednesday, but the gales were still blasting us. The waves were manageable, though, and we were tired of hanging out at Oak. We packed up and headed off for Raspberry Island, hoping to be rewarded with a wind-free beach. It was a rough paddle into the wind, but we finally made it. And it was perfect. Annie and I washed our hair, letting it dry in the windless sunshine. HOORAY!!! We relaxed over lunch, napped, and read on the beach, then hiked through the woods to the lighthouse on the north end of the island. Dick and Mike enjoyed a rollicking game of croquet while Jini and I listened to the tales of our young ranger guide. He finally explained, too, that the lush Canadian yew on the island was due to the dearth of deer on Raspberry. It had been mere ground cover on Sand Island, where there’s a big deer herd. Apparently it’s pretty delicious. I’ll pass.

croquetCroquet on the Raspberry Island Lighthouse lawn

Raspberry lighthouse kitchenRaspberry Lighthouse Kitchen, circa 1920
We tore ourselves away from the island around 2:00, and it took us a few more hours to paddle the five additional miles to our landing. The wind gradually abated, and we were able to chat and explore the shoreline as we approached our final destination on Little Sand Bay. Whew!

paddling inLate afternoon, paddling back to Little Sand Bay
As we drove home, the sun set over a glass-smooth Lake Superior. Now how did THAT happen? We later learned that a kayaker had drowned near Sand Island the next day. I’m glad we’re cautious. Old Fogies are.

groupHappy Old Fogies: Jini, Dick, Me, Annie, & Mike.

Bavaria with My Buddies

This missive marks the last of my “Istanbul Blogs” though it’s not really about Istanbul at all. My final week overseas was spent with my sister Laura and her family exploring Bavaria—Munich and Innsbruck. I’m sure it was an adventure for them to travel with this “disabled auntie”, and they were all more than accommodating of my needs. We’d happily celebrated Jana and Olaf’s marriage in Hamburg and looked forward eagerly to our flight to Munich. We weren’t exactly thrilled to stand in line with a rowdy group of “fussball” revelers. They said they’d been down for a combined football and stag party. One even offered to sign Matthew’s Twins cap. Pretty drunk.

Hamburg revelers

Hamburg “foosball” revelers~checking in at the airport

One of the advantages of traveling with a wheelchair is that the entire party is whisked through expedited security. Erin and Matthew loved it. Libby was, as usual, hesitant to go through the scanner without me, but the guard dragged her through, and she waited for me nervously.

A wheelchair awaited me in Munich, and Erin pushed me while Matt pushed the luggage cart. Lucky thing, as Matt rammed into a barrier in the parking area. No loss for our luggage, but it might have been painful for me. (He couldn’t see over our mountain of luggage.)


After lengthy negotiations for a larger vehicle (a monster Mercedes van), we headed off for Dachau, about a half hour outside Munich. We had a quick lunch and did some major reconnoitering, and Rob finally found the entrance to the site. It was late afternoon, so the documentary film was over, but we walked (me on crutches) to the main site. Himmler built Dachau, which housed over 200,000 prisoners: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, clergymen, and POW’s. 32,000 of them died there. The gate into the compound still has the original saying, “ARBEIT MACHT FRIE”—Work brings freedom.

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“Work Brings Freedom”—entrance to Dachau Concentration Camp

Dachau

Erin perusing the information, Libby’s case in tow

Ann wheelchair

The Wheelchair Wonder—high-fashion matching sandals

We drove up into the mountains to our hotel, the Schwangauer Hof, a country hotel near the two castles we planned to visit. Laura had booked a package called “King Ludwig’s Summer Tour,” and it was fantastic. We enjoyed lavish breakfasts at the hotel, two fabulous 5-course dinners in a deluxe restaurant (even Libby was welcome), and a private evening castle tour and carriage ride (with schnapps at the horse barns). It was definitely a tour designed for families. The highlight of our first dinner was the “Half Lobster Schwanstein”, morsels of lobster in the shell, swimming in butter and hollandaise sauce. Oh, my!

lobster

Half lobster Schwanstein—YUM!!!

kids and night castle

Matt and Erin cavort after dinner with the lit castle in the background

On Monday everyone else toured Neuschwanstein Castle, the Disney-looking castle that you often see on posters. Because it was a long uphill hike and hundreds of stairs, I decided to forego that tour. I planted myself in an outdoor restaurant with my knitting and an i-pod audio book. (Love that i-pod!) Rob reported that they were a part of a 100-person tour and that there were many more hundreds touring the three stories of the castle. Apparently 1.3 million tourists visit it each year, an average of 3500 a day. I must admit, I’m not sorry to have missed it.

Neuscwanstein

Neuschwanstein—lived in less than one year

That evening we arrived early for our private castle tour, only to learn that it, too, required an uphill climb. We had lots of time, and I managed all the hills and stairs slowly but comfortably.

Gillund family castle

The Gillunds pose outside the castle before our tour

Not only did we have a private tour of the stunning Hohenschwanstein Castle, but we were the only ones there. (Sadly, no indoor photos allowed.)

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Erin welcomes us to the castle—NO TOURISTS! (except us)

Our tour guide closed things up as he showed us around, regaling us with fascinating stories about King Ludwig and answering all our questions. I’ve never enjoyed a castle tour more than this one. King Ludwig wasn’t totally crazy—just different. Our guide suggested that he was declared insane for political reasons, which most likely precipitated his death (suicide?) at age 40.

Hohenschwangau

Hohenschwangau Castle, exterior

After the tour we clambered into a horse carriage and were treated to a tour through the valley, including a stop at a pristine horse stable for a glass of schnapps and a look at the horses. A cleaner stable I’ll never see, and the owner and our driver were both congenial hosts.

house-painted

Our horse cart tour included many homes like this one…very Bavarian!

Yet another stunning meal (how lucky can we get?) topped off our last night near Swan Lake (hence the “schwan” in the castle names).

swan

This swan graces the top of the castle, named for the nearby Swan Lake

Tuesday morning we climbed into our luxurious van for the drive to Innsbruck, Austria, where we hoped to spend some time hiking in the mountains. Well, except for me… We checked into a very charming alpine hotel (The Tyrolis) and decided to head out for a tour of the Alpine Zoo. Libby and I were turned away at the gate (no dogs), so we hung out again with knitting and an audio book. Sigh…

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Knitting outside the zoo…

After the zoo episode we found our way to the city center, which brought back memories of an earlier trip there with my sister-in-law Dodie (1982). We stopped to watch two buskers, one a silver-plated Bo-Peep character with a little dog (no lamb), and the other was a man with a crystal orb for juggling and magic tricks.

silver bo-peep

A silver-plated Bo-Peep and company in Innsbruck

Merry vikings

My favorite Bavarian Singers, Matt and Erin

We sauntered the ancient streets (at my very slow crutcherly pace) and just enjoyed people-watching and browsing among the shops. I continue to be fascinated with medieval cities, and Innsbruck is a charming example. Of course, we enjoyed a heffe weissen, my beer of choice in Germany. YUM!

tipping a brew

Tipping a brew to Bavaria, Rob, Laura, and me

On our last lovely day in Austria we took a cable car up the mountain, where I settled myself to knit (again) as the rest of the family trekked into the mountains. They came across a very friendly herd of sheep, probably expecting snacks. Libby was a bit confused, not quite sure how to interact with them.

Gillunds with sheepThe Gillunds (and Libby) being accosted by Alpine sheep

They hiked up higher, then returned to the chalet for lunch. Then we decided to go to the Swarovski Crystal Museum, expecting a demonstration of how the famous crystals are mined and manufactured.

Swarovski museum entranceSwarovski museum entrance

It was far from that, but it was a pretty fascinating art museum with pieces based on the crystal concept—works ranging from a huge honeycomb-domed room of triangular mirrors to an avant-garde theatrical piece, an entire room of animated mannequins and costumes. Weird, but fun. The kids loved each new and unique experience. The museum’s exit was a huge Swarovski Crystal store. Surprise. (Yawn.)

The Key Dude

Matthew the Key Dude

Our last night in Germany was spent back in Hamburg with Jana, Olaf, and little Max. We dined on a delicious pasta dinner on their charming patio (landscaped, of course, by Olaf). A tiny fountain and fish pond gurgled as we ate, chatting and marveling at the miracle of little Max, who seemed to have grown in less than a week.

baby bath MaxPost-bath Froggie Baby–Maximillian Sequoya

What a lovely way to finish our time in Germany, with people we love. Lucky me…lucky we!

From Istanbul to Hamburg via Oldenburg

Sometimes I wonder if my life will EVER settle down. It’s bound to happen some day—just not today. Here’s my most recent adventure: After hugging Laura and Yvette farewell, I cast one last glance over the sparkling Bosphorus before I clambered into the car for the airport, bags and Libby in tow. The driver helped me in, and at check-in I arranged for wheelchair transport to the gate, which was slow coming, but well worth the wait. The flight was fine—I had three seats to myself, so I could prop my broken foot up beside me.

Wheelchair service bypasses lines, so although I was last off the plane, I was one of the first to the baggage claim. I heard Libby barking in her crate as we approached. Hops, wags, and hugs. Once my suitcase arrived, I used my crutches. Jana was waiting for me outside customs, and she had parked close. What a sweetie! We had three hours to enjoy hamburgers and marvel at little Max, who has grown since I saw him a month ago; his little hands have finally mastered grasping.

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Jana and Max wait with me for the train to Oldenburg

Jana and Olaf helped me on the train, recruiting passengers to assist with my luggage at Bremen, where I was to meet my friend Deidre. But—no Deidre. I waited until the last minute, and a young disabled man helped get my luggage on the train. (Maybe he understood my dilemma better than most?) He called Deidre on his cell, but she didn’t answer. Could she have missed the train? I thought she might be waiting for me in Oldenburg, but no Deidre there, either. I hobbled to a taxi and took it to her apartment, which was dark. We must have miscommunicated. Could she be in Bremen waiting for me? I knew we’d been clear about which train I’d be on. I tried the doorbell. No answer. It was nearly midnight. What to do? Libby and I sat out by the road waiting, to no avail. There was still a light on next door, so I went over and knocked.
Fortunately, they spoke English. Whew! Walter helped me get into Deidre’s building, and we discovered a VERY ill Deidre. Oh, my goodness! He called the ambulance, and I joined her, leaving a confused Libby behind. How could this be? I was supposed to be the invalid, not HER! The long and short of it is that after spending a night together in emergency rooms, Deidre was admitted to the hospital. I went back to her apartment to e-mail her partner and her son, then collapsed into a long-awaited sleep.

Deidre’s partner Laurie had immediately found a flight from London, so he and I got to know each other quite well. He’s definitely a “keeper”—kinder than the average dude. Her son also flew down to visit, and over the week she gradually improved. We shared only one day together at her apartment before I had to leave for Hamburg again—meeting my sister and her family for Jana’s wedding, the main reason for our trip to Germany.

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My friend Deidre~feeling a bit better

No hospital photos, I’m afraid. Too stressful, although I enjoyed watching the bicycle traffic as it whizzed by the apartment balcony. Actually, I was more than a little jealous—DARNED broken foot!

bikers

A walking and bike path across from Deidre’s apartment (note the sign)

biker group

Teens heading off for a night on the town…or whatever.

I rode the train back to Hamburg with Deidre’s friend, who helped me find a taxi for our hotel, and my brother-in-law met me in the parking lot. It was hot in Hamburg, but we were all excited about the wedding. I had my own room in this hotel—on the second floor. Sigh… I never really balked at stairs before, but I’m coming to appreciate the trials of the disabled.

Jana and Olaf’s wedding was at the Schloss Ahrensburg, a lovely castle near Olaf’s family home. 10:30 Friday morning—amazing! Friday is wedding day at the castle.

Gillunds and castleMy sisters family pose in front of the castle

It was held in a baroque top-floor chapel (no elevator)—quite different from American weddings. We were a small group, and the bride and groom sat at a table across from the officiator. He chatted with them amiably, then their two sponsors joined them. My niece Erin sat off at the side, waiting to hand over the rings. Little Max was good, nearly the whole time. What can you expect of a 5-month-old?

weddingOlaf and Jana were seated for this casual ceremony.

Jana and Olaf coming outThe newlyweds are greeted by bubbles.

Jana and Erin

Erin gets a big hug from Jana, who was her nanny 12 years ago.

Tonns kissing

Jana, Max, and Olaf–the newly-joined Tonn family

Afterwards we drove to Olaf’s family home, where festivities were held for our group of close family and friends. First, Jana and Olaf had to cut their way through hearts painted on a banner across the entry to the yard, then climb through it.

cutting hearts

Olaf and Jana cut through a heart (“Jana + Olaf”), then step through

Next they were confronted with a log on a sawhorse blocking their way under a floral arbor. On went the gloves, and in spite of the heat, they sawed through their log amid cheers from all of us.

cutting log-erin

Sawing away in the heat–only Jana has work gloves.

We toasted their success with champagne, then went to the back yard to chat, nibble, and swim (at least the kids). The yard at the Tonn house was incredible—lovingly landscaped by Olaf. The huge fish pond doubled as a swimming pool for everyone under about 35.

erin matt poolCheck out the fish in the pool…

pool jump…which was well utilized for heat management activities.

The weather was HOT! The rest of us sweated and sipped beer or lemonade in the shade. At one point revelers appeared with scores of heart-shaped balloons, which were ceremoniously released into the atmosphere (a few were nabbed by children or caught in tree boughs).

balloon release

Here’s to LOVE!!!!

At 6:00 the caterers arrived with a spectacular meal, which we all enjoyed inside the glass-enclosed family room as we toasted Jana and Olaf. It might have been a hot day, but we were thrilled to see them so much in love—with each other as well as with their little Max. We guests all received ginko bilboa seedlings to plant in honor of the event. (No hope for getting THAT through customs. I’ll buy one in Minnesota.) Even their cake was decorated with ginko bilboa—these two are DEFINITELY tree people (in fact, they met at a tree convention).

ginko cakeA truly unique wedding cake, a la ginko

After a full, fulfilling day, we collapsed into bed soon after returning to our hotel.

Saturday morning we woke early for a harbor tour with Jana’s parents and cousin. Hamburg is the third largest harbor in Europe, in spite of the fact that it lies 100 kilometers from the North Sea. (Rotterdam and Antwerp are ahead.) The harbor is a maze, but we were duly impressed with its many huge docks and ships.

container dock

A container dock–the ship carries 10,000 containers.

cruise shipA rather cheerful-looking cruise ship in the harbor

Particularly notable was a private cruiser being built for a wealthy Russian, Roman Abramovich. This ship, supposedly costing about 1.2 billion dollars, is reputedly the world’s largest private yacht. Let’s see. Am I impressed? I wonder how that money could have been put to better use, especially since he already had five huge yachts. Hmmm…

yacht

The Eclipse, Abramavich’s yacht–the biggest in the world.

dock singersMusicians entertained us on the Hamburg Harbor docks.

We had a “wurst and weissen” lunch, then headed back to Olaf’s parents’ house to watch the world cup quarterfinal game, which Germany won handily over Argentina. That definitely created a happy crowd of revelers for the party. There were more fun activities, including a painter’s canvas covered with penciled hearts and ginko leaves—for everyone to paint at their leisure. Very cool.

paint projectA group gift to remember the wedding weekend

Dancing started around 9:00, and we enjoyed a few dances before droopy eyelids dragged us back to our motel again. I tried to dance on one leg, but one song was enough. Sigh… Not long after we left, the party really got rocking.

dancingErin and Matt danced with Jana

True to German form, Olaf, Jana and their friends celebrated long into the night. Bless their young hearts

Cappadocia Warm

It goes without saying that Cappadocia is beautiful. But it’s more than that. It’s sicak (see-JOCK) in Turkish, which means warm in temperature—and in temperament: amiable, accommodating, and agreeable.

On Mother’s Day weekend I flew to Cappadocia. I wanted to replace some photos I’d lost from my last trip (intended for a future magazine article); my hasty downloading had dumped them into the nether reaches of my computer. Sigh…

I was unsuccessful at finding a travel companion, so I went alone. Not big on solo travel, I hoped to keep myself busy enough to evade loneliness. A camera is a reasonable (though not particularly chatty) companion.

roses at kelebek

The Kelebek’s natural accents

After sweating out traffic delays on the way to the airport (a long 3 hours en route from my apartment), I checked in with only moments to spare, then waited out a two-hour flight delay. Wouldn’t you know? I was met at the Kaiseri airport by a thunderstorm and a driver. Whew! When I finally arrived at the Kelebek Hotel, a familiar friendly face welcomed me and showed me to room twelve (charming), where I collapsed into a deep sleep.

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Even the numbers are charming.

I’m not going to recount my entire weekend, as it’s a bit redundant. (Took pictures of this, took pictures of that…) What I’d like to share, though, is the warmth I was met with. This was my fifth trek to Cappadocia, and I’ve always stayed at the Kelebek. It’s expanded considerably over the past five years, but its warmth and personalized service continues undiminished. I felt like I’d come home. Hasan’s gravely voice and welcoming smile lift my heart; with unassuming demeanor, he offers his service before you even think of a need. It’s lovely.

Kelebek breakfast terrace

The Kelebek breakfast terrace

“You can check in when it’s convenient—any time.” How many hotels offer you that? I spent the night, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and was sitting on the side porch with a cup of coffee when Alta (a new employee) brought her clipboard out to check me in. I didn’t even have to step into the office.

I asked if Mehmet and Ali, the hotel’s owners were around, but they were out for the day. I’d catch them for photos later.

Irises and the hillsideHeading off to the hinterlands…

I headed off with my camera to visit two local women outside of town. They live in cave houses and welcome visitors to see their homes, chat, and share tea; then they uncover needlework they have for sale. Most of it they craft themselves during the long winters, although some of it is purchased. As I walked up the road, a little girl called out, “Anne anne, bayan geliyor!” (Grandmother, a lady is coming.) Then in English, she said, “Come to see my grandmother.” Little did she know that’s exactly what I had in mind.

Hatice outsideHatice waiting outside her cave home

I interviewed Hatice (hot-EE-jay), a woman about ten years my junior with an interesting story. She grew up in Göreme, where she attended eight years of school, then married at 16. She was married for thirty years, then divorced, choosing to stay in her cave home and support herself with her needlework. “I don’t need much,” she said, “and I am happy here. It is a quiet life, but a good one.” She showed me a few of the 28 rugs she’s made, but she said that she no longer makes them. She prefers to embroider and make oya to trim scarves. She encouraged me to stay and visit longer, and though I was tempted, I needed to head out.

Hatice needlework

Hatice with her needlework

My next visit was with Fatma, a woman just around the next fairy chimney.  She’s my age mate (60) and has beautiful white hair, a rarity in Turkey. I was told by a Turkish woman that I should let my hair grow long and dye it black, and since then I’ve noticed that nearly all Turkish women dye their hair, even in Göreme. At any rate, Fatma met me with a beautiful smile and removed her scarf to rearrange it before I snapped any photos.

Fatma portraitThe lovely Fatma on her terrace “sitting room”

She wears a scarf not for religious reasons, but for tradition, common in most rural areas of Turkey. It’s mainly in Istanbul where young women wear their scarves wrapped around their heads in what is called the “turban” style—overtly religious. But don’t get me started…

Fatma’s white scarf is edged in lovely bead oya, lacy trim intended for scarves, though it’s now often transformed into jewelry.

oya closeup

A length of macrame oya ready for a scarf

Fatma never attended school because her grandfather felt that it wasn’t necessary for a girl to be educated. Her sons taught her to read as they learned, though she says she’s very slow.  Fatma and her husband live in what was her father’s home, and they keep a vegetable garden for the family, replete with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and the like. They also tend five more gardens away from their home, mostly grapes for raisins.

fatma's cave home

Fatma’s cave home–with their garden in the foreground

Fatma invited me into her home for tea and cake. Her walls and floor were covered with rugs, either gifts or her own work. Because her sight has weakened, she no longer makes rugs but spends her winters doing needlework. She said she’s made more than 40 carpets over the years. The one hanging on her wall was a work of art.

Fatma and Ann MarieAge mates posing before a Fatma masterpiece.

I’m afraid I’ve gone on too long. These ladies welcomed me, as did Ruth at Tribal carpets, Şemse at Sultan’s Carpets, and Mehmet and Ali, the owners of the Kelebek. These kind people warmed my heart and made my weekend a delight. Ali (in spite of miserable allergies) gave me a tour of the the new cultural center they’re creating (the focus of my upcoming article).

Ali at Kelebek

Ali showing me their new Seten Cultural Center

MehmetThe ever-friendly Mehmet, Kelebek partner

I was also treated to a fascinating tour of the Open Air Museum–amazing underground churches carved out hundreds of years ago, guided by Mustafa, an incredibly knowledgeable young man. Another Kelebek connection that far surpasses expectations.

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A wall of the Dark Church, from the Open Air Museum

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Another wall in the Dark Church–amazing!

I just want to stress once more that everyone in Göreme welcomed me warmly, from the soft-spoken room cleaners to restauranteurs, shop owners, and hotel staff. In fact, as I visited numerous hotels for my article, everyone was more than accommodating—except at the most exclusive hotel.

Figures.

Showing off Turkey

Oh, what to share with my visiting friends? Especially my lifelong canoe buddies—after 25 years of grueling (and fun) canoe trips, what would I most love to have them sample in Istanbul? Well…

They’d have to try a carpet shop, and then there’s the Grand Bazaar, and of course a Bosphorus tour. Can’t forget the Blue Mosque… Oh! The food! Which dishes will best represent the delectable Turkish cuisine? And what else might wow them? Cappadocia! Yes!

Flights arrived on time, and our two taxis (3 ladies each) caravanned to their 2-bedroom Sultanahmet apartment (thanks to Musa Başaran). First stop: The Grand Bazaar, with a quick stop at a carpet dealer’s to finalize arrangements for an upcoming rug show. Oops! Looks like we got hooked into a full-fledged complimentary demonstration. Interesting to all, including two rounds of tea. No sales, though. My friends were hesitant to make decisions on jet-lagged brains. Wise move.

A fascinating rug show at Turksan

Our first meal was a traditional Turkish one at the Doy Doy; mercimek soup, meze plates, and a shared mixed grill left us all grinning (and full). Karen’s constant YUM’s assured me that food would be a highlight of everyone’s week.

Doy Doy break maker

The Doy Doy bread baker

The next morning dawned drizzly, so we scrapped our outdoor touring plans and headed for the Grand Bazaar, this time, without detours. After fighting with a few cash machines, I showed them some of the hans, and we just wandered around and waited for each other to make purchases. There’s something for everyone in the Grand Bazaar—heck, with 4000 stores, there should be!

Jewelry seller 3

Jewelry at the Grand Bazaar

After lunch we trekked to Arnavutköy for a visit to my little apartment, a tour of Robert College, and a night of jazz on the Bosphorus (my second round of Balık Ekmek Caz). The music was fabulous, and the Ladytrippers (yes, our group even has a name) were more than impressed with the evening-lit Bosphorus. No surprise. It’s always stunning.

Day two we headed to the Taş Han and Laleli Mosque. The focus was actually the leather bazaar under the mosque, where everyone wanted to try on pieced leather jackets like one I’d bought years ago. The shopowner was pleased to unload four jackets on our little group, though not quite as pleased as the buyers.

The famous leather-leaf jackets a la Ladytrippers

The Taş Han was a hit, too. It’s the most meticulously renovated han in Istanbul.

spice bazaar thoughtful woman

Oh–we visited the Spice Bazaar as well

Unfortunately, our trekking was a bit limited by infuriating infirmities, which brought back memories of a long-past canoe trip (20 years ago?). We were camped on Peter Lake one hot July afternoon, lounging on massive shoreline boulders as we dangled our feet in the water and chatted. It was just too dang hot to paddle that day. We joked about future canoe trips—being airlifted in to the Boundary Waters with our walkers and wobbling around an island campsite. Sadly, we’re getting there. Our ages now range from 58 to 69, and some of us are showing a little wear. My activity was limited by a recent back surgery, Linda was still recovering from a serious head injury (often dizzy, especially after tram rides), and Gail’s bum knee got so bad she had to buy a cane. What a crew! Those walkers might be in the nearer future than we thought! Oh, well. We did great in spite of our limitations—smiling all the way.

Goreme at nightA late-night arrival to our hotel in Göreme

Thursday night we boarded a plane for Cappadocia—what trusting friends I have! Libby was more than pleased to join us, riding in her rolling case like a perfect little princess. The only thing she hates is the security check. I have to drag her through the x-ray machine. No dummy, she. Most of the security guards make a big fuss over her, though one in Kayseri jumped nearly out of her skin when she spotted my dog.

Gail and JoAnn breakfast at Kelebek

JoAnn and Gail enjoy breakfast on the Kelebek terrace.

Cappadocia was a hit with everyone. The Kelebek Hotel is incredibly charming, and the first night we were invited by Mehmet Bey for dinner and wine at Sultan’s Carpets. Dinner was a delicious guveç, and carpets were purchased by all. Ali said he made the guveç himself; handsome young fellow and a master chef to boot!

Şemse

Şemse was a charming salesman…

Susan contemplates rug purchase…and we all thought long and hard…

purchasing a rug

…and finally made the plunge (even me).

The next day we did a bus tour, including a hike through the stunning terrain of the Rose Valley, a visit to a ceramics workshop, a walk through Paşabahçe’s amazing fairy chimneys, a traditional lunch, and a tour of the underground city. Whew! A VERY full day.

Karen, Susan hike

Ah, the Rose Valley!–Karen and Susan

plate painting

Fine detail painting at the ceramics workshop.

camelsThe camels at Paşabağları

underground cityThe amazing underground city.

We finished our tour with a stop at Kocabağ winery, then dragged ourselves home. Linda and I were excited to be moving to another room (our first one was charming but tiny). Little did we know we’d be navigating ten knee-high stairs to a little aerie (remember Linda’s dizziness?). Our antique door locked with a wooden bolt and padlock, and the entryway was also our bathroom! Go figure. Nonetheless, it had charm—and a little more space than our first room. Once we got up there, that is.

Linda room stepsLinda climbs the stairs to our new room…

bath entry

Get a load of that old door–and the bathroom entryway!

Libby on bedBut what a sweet room! Libby loved all the pillows.

Our last day was rainy again, and we explored the town of Göreme, including a weaving workshop and carpet store now run by the government. It was fascinating. It was a low-key day, and I think we all finally relaxed.

JoAnn, Linda, and GailTrekking down the hill on our last day in Göreme

Kelebek cleanersA fond farewell to our lovely room cleaners, and little Özge (with Libby)

Then—back to Istanbul, work, and evenings out together before everyone left on Wednesday. I enjoyed sharing Turkey with some of my best buddies, but even more, I loved the time with my bosom buddies. Though only a few of us still have the energy to canoe, the camaraderie endures. We’ve decided to make a slight change: now the Ladytrippers’ annual trek will be to a hotel rather than a campsite.

You go, girls!

MY AUSTRALIA FINALE—A DIDGEREDOO

Australia is known for kangaroos, wombats, wallabies, and …the didgeridoo. Although not an animal, the didgeridoo as unique to Australia as its marsupials. After a week in New Zealand, I returned to Melbourne to spend a day with my sister-in-law Angela and my nephew Josh. They treated me to delicious meals (including ice cream with watermelon and raspberry topping—YUM!) and an enlightening open poetry reading at a downtown pub.

poetry reading 1

An outstanding poet, reading straight from her mac

A number of the poems were quite funny—some even hilarious. A serious piece read by an elderly Scottish poet brought me to tears. Shades of Dylan Thomas. I have to admit, though, there were a few poems that wouldn’t have even survived in my 9th grade classes. Oh, well. It’s all about expression and what each of us has to offer. Josh and I had a heated conversation afterwards about “giftedness.” But I digress.

Back to the didgeridoo.

After dinner, we decided to take in a film (Invictus, a stunning film about Nelson Mandela and the South African soccer team). Just outside the theater we stopped to listen to a grizzled Aboriginal playing his didgeridoo with abandon as he perched on an overturned milk carton.

didgeredoo on crate

Mr. Didgeredoo a la sidewalk concert

I pulled out my camera, shooting photos of him as he played his six-foot instrument, the wide end of which rested on the ground. The sound was deep and haunting, yet captivating. He also marked rhythm by tapping a stick on its side. After we dropped a few coins into his hat, he stopped playing to chat with us.

didgeredoo very close

Our Aboriginal musician

He explained that he’d fashioned his instrument from a small eucalyptus tree he’d found rolling in a river. Apparently it takes years of searching to find a eucalyptus sapling of the right size that has been hollowed out by termites—not too much, and not too little. He lifted the wide end of his crudely-decorated didgeredoo so we could see the termite imprints inside its “trunk.” It was pretty amazing, almost like fossilized images in stone.

Didgeredoo shoing inside to Angela

Showing Angela the interior of his instrument

didgeredoo interior…and a close-up of the inside

He held his instrument as though it were an extra limb—an extension of himself, then sat down to play again. He told us to stand still, and he held the end of the didgeredoo near each of our chests as he played. The vibrations of the lengthy tones emanating from the opening were physically palapable. Quite moving, actually.

Josh and didgeredoo

Josh “feeling the vibrations”.

I later learned that accomplished didgeridoo players master circular breathing to maintain a continuous tone on their instrument; this means they breathe in their nose and blow out their mouth at the same time. To do this, they use their cheeks almost like a bellows to keep the air moving as they inhale. Apparently an accomplished didgeridoo player can play continuously for over a half hour. Unbelievable.

This happenstance meeting offered another fascinating glimpse into Australian culture. Lucky me.