Burgazada: a sleepy island get-away

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

Oh, how I love the Istanbul ferries!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Could this have been the culprit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last days in Istanbul—for now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Oh, the prawns!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ulve Bey’s spices, outside his door.

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

Jini waits patiently outside while we shop for spices.

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

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

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

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

 

The wimps might wear these instead.

 

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

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

The famed Istanbul University Gate— tourists not admitted.

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

The cayçi serves Jini her first street tea.

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

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

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

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

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

The Süleymaniye Mosque as viewed from the courtyard.

 

The interior of the Süleymaniye Mosque—descending domes.

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

Fasuliye, ayran and bread. Yum!

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

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

Antalya: Ancient Florida in the Taurus Mountains

Turkish city number four is Antalya, my husband Jerry’s favorite. I have to admit, I love it, too. We are booked in a funky little hotel (Mediterra Art Hotel) in the old city of Kaleici.

Our hotel garden, perfect for group gatherings (when it’s not raining).

This old city, known as the castle town, sits on a Mediterranean harbor surrounded by the Taurus Mountains. It doesn’t get prettier than this, let me tell you. I think this is my sixth trip to this area, and I absolutely love it.

Hadrian’s Gate, the entrance to the old town.

When we arrived it was threatening rain, so we were treated to a fabulous dinner of sea bass (or other items for the few who didn’t want fish) at the Varyant, a gorgeous seaside restaurant. We were joined by the owner of Sojourn Travel Turkey, Chris Vannoy, along with Elif (our tour coordinator) and Jonathan, a photographer who would be shadowing us for a promotional video they’re producing.

I’m posing between Chris Vannoy, the owner of Sojourn Travel, and Elif, our tour organizer. Elif and I have communicated daily for many weeks (months?), so it was fun to finally meet her.

After dinner our guide Yunus (“dolphin” in Turkish) brought us through the Antalya Museum on a trek through time from 4000 BC to the Byzantine Era.

Our guide Yunus explains the history of the area.

Yunus guided us through room after room of incredible statuary, most from the nearby ruins of Perge. He finally led us through an amazing collection of marble sarcophagi, ancient carved tombs. One thing I found amusing was a sarcophagus of a woman who decided not to include her husband in her crypt. The face of the woman was carved on the sarcophagus, but her husband’s face was never carved because she decided she didn’t want to deal with him in the afterlife. Gotta love it.

The sarcophagus of a woman who’d had enough of her old man. I guess he had to buy himself another grave.

On our first day we were treated to a beautiful two-hour drive west along the Mediterranean (which was fine, as we were pretty bushed). We visited Myra (in Demre) to tour St. Nicholas Church. Remember him? Santa Claus? I’ll bet you didn’t know he lived in Turkey (which at the time was Asia Minor or something like that). It’s an ancient cathedral with stunning mosaics and an empty crypt. Apparently St. Nicholas’ remains are now scattered across the globe, mostly in Italy. Go figure.

One of the floor mosaics in St. Nicholas Church, circa 520 AD

One thing we’ve learned about the frescoes in these old churches is that people believed in the healing powers of the body parts in the paintings, and they would chip off part of an eye or a hand (or whatever related to their ailments), and they’d mix them with water and drink them. I imagine if there was any good to come of that, it was the power of their own faith. You’d think the plaster and paint would do them no good. It also meant that much of the frescoes have disappeared. So sad!

 

We met this simitçi vendor outside the church. A simit is a bagel-shaped crusty bread coated with sesame seeds.

Our next stop was a Mediterranean boat cruise. HEAVEN! We started at the port in Kekova, and the weather was perfect. Our captain was our guide’s friend, and we were tickled to find a cooler complete with every beverage one might desire, even rakı. We motored to a beach with an ancient ruin, and many of us indulged in a Mediterranean swim.

Jini paddles around near our boat.

Before long Yunus called us back to the boat for a lunch of five delectable salads and freshly grilled sea bass. The Turks usually serve the whole fish—head, tail and all, and we’re getting quite adept at weeding out the bones. The fish was delicious—moist and light.

Sea bass fresh off the grill. YUM!

My favorite part of the meal was a warm salad of diced potatoes and eggplant with garlic and tomato sauce. I think it’s about the spices though, I’ll have to work on duplicating it.

Lunch on the boat–unsurpassed!

We were supposed to stop at Mount Olympus for the Chimera (flames coming out of the rock), but we opted to head back home instead. We’re always a little overwhelmed by how much is on our agenda, so next time I’ll back it off a bit. More time in each city with less touring and more free time. Live and learn! I’ve loved doing this trip with Sojourn, and we’re all learning.

I’d arranged to meet my good friend Aşkin that evening, and Susie joined us for rakı and mezes on the harbor at the Castle Cafe—a great spot without many tourists. In fact, most of the people we saw that evening were Turks.

A dear friend from yesteryear, Aşkin is a ship designer in Antalya and treated Susie and me to a delicious meal of mezes with rakı.

Kaleici, the old town, is a fascinating old place, and on Saturday night the streets were filled with tables of young Turks out for the evening. Busy, busy, so we were happy to have found a quieter venue. It was fun to see Aşkin, who I met through his English teacher while I taught at Koç. He and his friend Söner toured my friend Teri and me around the hot spots of Istanbul with the intent of improving their English. Both of them became good friends, and we ended up introducing them to Istanbul’s historical sites. A fair trade.

On Sunday (after two VERY noisy nights, sleepless for some),we drove up to Termessos, one of my favorite ruins in Turkey.

Sally perches above the arena, which is mostly still intact in spite of many earthquakes over the centuries.

It’s situated high on a mountain and was inaccessible to Alexander the Great when he tried to invade it in the 4th century BC. Instead of worrying about defending themselves, the inhabitants were able to focus on their culture, which included theater and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Rubble is strewn everywhere at Termessos.

Archeologists haven’t done any excavations up there, so the grounds are filled with vegetation and trees, and many of the walls are still standing. Sadly, many have been toppled by earthquakes, so the area is basically a rubble of columns, huge building blocks, and statuary. It’s phenomenal. Yunus, who has an archeology degree, told us it’s his favorite site.

Jane scrambles along the rubble.

Chris Vannoy models being a dead guy in a sarcophagus.

I pose in a niche once occupied by a far more beautiful sculpture.

Our wonderful chauffeur Orhan drove us back to the old city, where we were treated to a lunch overlooking the ancient harbor. It was all about the view, let me tell you.

Jini poses at lunch overlooking Antalya’s old harbor.

After that Yunus walked us through the Kaleici, where we stumbled on a cat house area overseen by a lazy dog. He even has a tag that says “MANAGER.”

The local cat house. As I’ve said before, strays are well cared for in Turkey.

We finally landed back at the Castle Cafe for rest, adult beverages, and a stunning view of the harbor. We were nearly finished when huge plops of rain invaded our space. We hurried under some trees and I started gathering everyone’s payments when I learned that Chris was treating us. Such a deal! More kudos for Sojourn Travel.

Doin’ our thing back at the hotel. (Tom waxes prophetic.)

After wandering on our own through town, we gathered back in the hotel courtyard for snacks, wine and rakı to chat and share our experiences. Sadly, we NEVER got enough time in these fascinating cities. I’m thankful, though, for a connected and fun group of traveling compatriots.

On to Istanbul!

Kapadokya is Cappadocia

Want to know how kind the Turks are? This street sign is clear evidence:

Protect those precious beasts!

DİKKAT YAVAŞ means “ATTENTION. GO SLOWLY.”Sweet, huh? Most of the dogs and cats in Turkey run free, and people feed them everywhere. You’ll never see a starving animal in Turkey. That’s kindness.

Our third Turkish city was Göreme, my favorite of Cappadocia’s cities. I have to admit, though, it’s changed. The sleepy little town I visited twelve years ago is now a thriving metropolis, but I still love it. We stayed in the Kelebek Cave Hotel, and most of us had luxurious rooms. So different from the backpacker’s paradise it was fifteen years ago. Everyone raved about their accommodations (sitting rooms and huge bathrooms), and a few of us entertained resident cats as well. (Don’t leave your windows open.)

Our little living room in the Kelebek, complete with two wing-back chairs and a fireplace.

We were awakened at 6 AM by the whoosh-whoosh of balloons skimming over the hotel—150 of them. Our guide explained that so many balloons every day have a huge impact on the environment and have driven off many animals and raptors. He said he hasn’t seen an eagle in years.

Jini toasts the ballooners with a morning cup of java. Filtered at the Kelebek!

Breakfast at the Kelebek is phenomenal—a vast array of olives (my favorite), vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheeses meats, breads and custom-made eggs and omelets. Fresh-squeezed orange juice puts it over the top. It was also our first hotel with actual filtered coffee rather than Nescafe instant. Woo-woo!

Breakfast here is beyond belief. You have no idea!

The first day was a whirlwind. Our guide Mehmet brought us up to Uç Hısarı to visit the cave home of Ismael, a sweet man who looked 80. I guessed (I thought Kindly) that he was 75, and he finally said he was 61. Evidence that Turks age faster. Tougher life?

 

Talk about compound nouns!

Ismael was a warm and willing host.

At any rate, we all enjoyed sipping tea and touring his family’s home for centuries. It’s now part of a national park reserve, so he has to pay rent to use it as a business. He spent nearly an hour with us, and our guide treated us to tea during his 45-minute lecture on the history of the area. Fascinating, but by the time he finished, we were frozen.

Ismael’s family home was festooned with carpets, kilims and all sorts of charming antiques.

Mehmet understood and took us to a quiet little cave hotel for Turkish coffee, cake, and treats. It was wonderful to see that there are still some serene spots in Cappadocia. With clean toilets, no less.

Türkçe kahvesi, orta, lütfen.

We went from there to the Open Air Museum, a series of ancient cave churches dating back to 1000 AD. Our guide Mehmet had book-size photos of the frescoes inside the churches, which helped us understand what we were seeing. The last time I was there we could take photos, but now it’s forbidden.

Our guide Mehmet prepared us for each of the churches we entered.

We got a big charge out of Asian tourists who love to pose dramatically in front of every site. The Chinese are a generation of singletons, and it shows.

My friend Susie ended up getting a camel ride, though she’s not just sure how. It was a highlight for all of us, though, and we thanked her for a good laugh.

I was a little late arriving on the scene, just in time to see Susie get lots of hugs after they finally wrestled her camel back down and pulled her off.

All camels are not beautiful.

We all went from there to the Dibek Restaurant, a lovely little spot in Göreme that’s one of my favorites. We were joined by Chris Vannoy, the owner of our tour company, and together we enjoyed a lunch of all the local dishes, served family style: mezes, çoban salata (shepherd’s salad), fasuliye (beans with lamb), mantı (tiny Turkish ravioli in a spiced yogurt sauce), and the crowning glory, testi Kebab (a hot meat dish cooked with vegetables in a pottery container that’s cracked open to serve). Every meal here is finished with either Turkish coffee or tea. Sigh.

Jane and Jane contemplate the historical offerings of the Dibek Lokanta.

We opted out of another tour in favor of a visit to a scenic overlook and then a Turkish winery. I must admit, I was once very critical of Turkish wine, but they’re doing MUCH better—as can be attested to by most of us in the group. With these fabulous lunches, we often end up finishing our day by gathering for snacks and wine (as well as the occasional rakı—the local anise liquor).

And a good time was had by all at the Kocabağ Winery.

The next morning we were up early and it was nice enough to eat breakfast on the outdoor terrace. Sally, Tom, Rondi, Jane and Jane all finagled balloon ride that morning and returned at 7:30, breathless with excitement. Ballooning in Cappadocia is impressive, at the least.

Mehmet and Erdal (our bus driver) picked us up at 8:45 for a visit to an underground city. Apparently there was an ant-colony-like city carved beneath every city in the area, and entire communities would move underground when attackers came, from the Romans to the Hittites to the Mongols. They’d push mammoth wheel-shaped stones over the entrance and sometimes stay underground for months at a time. There were stables, storage rooms, kitchens, and sleeping rooms, usually at least eight levels deep. Amazing. Most of us started the tour, but some of us fled to the surface when we reached down to the second level. Four of our ten finished the tour.

This is as far as I got before claustrophobia hit–level two. Those Cappadocians were brave folks.

Next we drove an hour to the Ihlara Valley for a 3-mile hike along a river. The valley was home for a huge settlement of Christians many centuries ago, and there are about sixteen cave churches along the way. We weren’t so thrilled about the 400 stairs down into the valley (Turkey’s Grand Canyon), but we were entranced with the lovely river walk. We went into three of the churches, which were very much like the ones we’d seen at the Open Air Museum the previous day. Here we could take photos.

The paintings in these churches were quite stunning–hundreds of years old.

 

Turkish graffiti: Ayşe, Sahin, Selman, Erdal…  Shame on them.

We were served a delicious lunch in outdoor tables along the river. Sojourn Travel included lunches every day on our tour, and their choices have been fabulous. This meal included bread and mezes, lentil soup, a fresh lettuce and vegetable salad, and our choice of fresh trout, köfte (meatballs), chicken shish-ka-bob, or güveç—lamb, beef, or vegetarian. (Güveç is one of my favorite dishes, a baked open casserole of meat and vegetables, often with cheese melted on top.)

Who doesn’t want to eat fresh fish beside a gurgling stream?

We were supposed to tour another cave monastery, but everyone cried “Uncle!” Everyone but Jini, that is. She’s game for anything that requires exercise, but we were toured out. We headed back to the hotel for naps (or hikes), and some of us opted for the Turkish bath. The women’s treatment ($30) included a face mask, a 15-minute sauna, a scrub and soap massage on a heated marble slab, then a shower, a screeching dip in a cool pool (closes the pores?), and finally a glass of apple tea while we relaxed and chatted on lounge chairs. Heaven!

Me, Jini, Jane and Rondi–ready for the Turkish Hamam treatments.

Mercimek (lentil soup), Ayran (a yogurt drink) and pide (mini-pizzas) finished off our evening. Well—except for our wine gathering in the courtyard. Short but sweet.

Oh, how I love the mercimek in Turkey. Lentil soup.

Farewell, Mehmet and your beautiful community!

One final example of Turkish kindness–gendarmes pushing a woman’s car that had stalled on a hill.

 

From Selçuk to Şirince (Sel-CHOOK to Sheer IN jay)

Çok mutluyuz. We are very happy about our three days in Selçuk, Turkey.

Our lovely room at the Bella (note the towel elephant on the bed.

We were welcomed to the Bella Hotel by Nazmi and Erdal, who remembered us from visits years ago (four of us have been there before). The rooms are sweet, decorated with carved walnut furniture, but the crowning glory is the third floor lounge replete with Turkish cushions and pillows. It overlooks the ruins of St. John’s Church and the Ayasuluk Citadel, a castle-looking fortress.

The comfortable seating on the third floor even had a fireplace, which Nazmi fired up daily for us.

Our upstairs lounge looked out on a stork nest across the street. The huge nest was like a haystack, shared by many smaller birds nesting in the mass of sticks. You can see bird nests hidden beneath Papa Mama?). Mangy in any case.

Mama and Papa Stork took turns minding the nest just across the street from our own aerie.

Because of the April 23rd Children’s Day holiday, most public buildings were festooned with huge flags and pictures of Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. This area of the country is very liberal, supporting secular government over the now-ruling AK Party, which promotes an Islamic government. I expect big changes ahead, as secular mayors have been elected in Ankara and Izmir, and many of us hope that this is a precursor to a broader shift in government. We will see.

The fortress, like every other public building, was festooned with flags (Ataturk in the middle) for the Children’s Day holiday (bayram).

Our first trip was to the House of the Virgin Mary on Easter morning. I used to think it was bunk, but I’ve come to believe that she did, indeed live there. Apparently she fled Jerusalem to save herself and was taken by boat to Ephesus, far away from Roman soldiers. John lived in Ephesus, and he had promised Jesus to protect her. He arranged for the building of a sweet little three-room stone house in an idyllic setting on top of a mountain near Ephesus. There’s some proof that she lived there, and visiting it is a moving experience. Apparently she lived 11 years beyond the death of Jesus, so she would have lived 64 years. She was betrothed at 12, and Jesus lived to 41.

The entrance to the Virgin Mary’s house, one at a time.

Our next stop was Ephesus, one of the world’s finest Roman ruins. You may know that Ephesus is the city criticized by Paul in the book of Ephesians for the people’s decadent lifestyle. It’s a stunning place even now, and we were fortunate to get there before the Easter crowds. Our guide, Rabia, was not only knowledgeable but took wonderful care of us.

Our brilliant guide, Rabia, shares more information than we can begin to absorb.

This was once a port city on the Aegean, but the waterway has been silted in over the years, with the sea receding a full 5 kilometers. Eventually the entire city was abandoned. The upper part of Ephesus was a ruling class area, a center for government and municipal control. They had sophisticated sewer systems, beautiful homes, and stunning marble structures. Little remains, of course, but archeologists are gradually rebuilding some of the structures and columns.

Many of Ephesus’ old columns have been repositioned, but many others were taken away and reused elsewhere in churches, temples, and even mosques.
The famous Ephesus library reconstruction was on our left as we descended into the main part of the city.

After Ephesus we were treated to a lunch of mezes and grilled meat before heading up to St. John’s Church, right across the street from our hotel. Gorgeous. 

Loved this column at St. John’s Church, carved with a Menorah on the bottom, the Maltese cross in the middle, and the Christian cross at the top.

That afternoon our host, Nazmi Bey, treated us to a carpet show followed by a feast of mezes and his homemade wine. We were pleased that his wine was actually quite good—unlike many homemade wines. I think the Turks are getting better at winemaking. It was never their forte (my uneducated opinion, of course).

Nazmi explains the history and symbolism of his carpets.
Big decisions!

The next day we drove up to the picturesque village of Şirince, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It was once a Greek village, and because it’s very much out of the way, it hasn’t been too commercialized.

Hiking in Şirince just makes me happy!
A local trekking home with his day’s shopping.
The owner of the Nişanyan Hotel in Şirince built a huge tower to protest the government. He also built himself a copy of a Lycian tomb and was imprisoned for his rebellion. (But–he escaped!)

You can still stroll by chickens, goats, and horses as you meander along the stone-paved streets, and women sell hand-made wares, spices and foods along the street. Sadly, many of the homes have been made into hotels and b&b’s, but I guess the world just can’t resist the charm of this lovely village.

A sweet doorway in Şirince.

In Şirince we were treated to a meal of gözleme, which is a thin flatbread cooked like a quesadilla with potatoes, spinach, cheese and meat inside. Yum!

This woman is making gözleme for a local restaurant.
Gozleme. YUM!

Tuesday was Children’s Day in Turkey, a huge holiday for everyone. After breakfast on the terrace we were all free to visit the local shops, the archeological museum, and a tile-painting business down the road. A good time was had by all.

On to Cappadocia…

 

Street market bargains: briefs for less than a dollar, and boxers, three for $1.75. Eat your heart out.

Istanbul—yet again!

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

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

Istanbul airport
The New Istanbul Airport

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

The Kybele lobby ceiling–magic!
The Kybele breakfast room

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

Jini assists in opening the testi kepab pot.

 

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

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

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

Gökçen with her yellow umbrella, guiding us through Topkapi.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

These eves far surpass those on my house!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

This 

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

Turkish Referendum Looms on April 16th

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

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

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

No! No! A Thousand Times No!

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

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

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

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
A Turk selling flags  the New Mosque

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

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

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
One of my favorite photos—a patriotic Turk walks the Istanbul Marathon

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

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

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

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

Istanbul, Turkey, election, annmariemershon.com, You must only to love them
An Ataturk monument to a secular democracy, Arnavutköy, Turkey

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

A Turkish election about presidential power

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

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

Turkey, elections, Erdogan, presidency, annmariemershon.com
What is the future of the Turkish secular democracy?

And they continue,

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

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
A president seeking more power: Recep Tayyyip Erdoğan

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

 

Let me share my tale…

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

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

Shameless self-promotion, I know.

Sigh…

 

 

An update from Turkey: OHAL

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

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

Here’s their update on how things are going:

HAIL TO THE CHIEF

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

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

Turkey, OHAL, annmariemershon.com
The Galata Tower watches over a quieter Istanbul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(The photos are mine.)

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