Back in Turkey—yet again!

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

The Sultan’s bedroom in Topkapı Palace, Istanbul:

The domed ceiling of the majestic Haghia Sophia, Istanbul:

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

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

Our wonderful tour guide, Mehmet Çabuk:

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

Standing columns at Pergamom:

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

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

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

Mosaic floors in the terraced homes at Ephesus, Turkey:

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

The home of Mary…

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

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


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

Medusa guards the Temple of Appollo, Didyma:


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

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


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

How could I help but pose with darling Ahmet?

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

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

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

The theater of Hierapolis in Pammukale:

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

The mineral spring at the Lycus Hotel, Pamukkale:

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

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

A ponderous Turkish tourist at Ephesus, Turkey:

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

Loved Thailand!

Sandra left a day early, so we I parted ways at the Hong Kong Central Station, where I boarded the metro for our (my) hostel, the Oi Suen Guesthouse. Luckily, I’d perused their instructions on Facebook, because everything was in Chinese. The 8th floor concrete hallway was dreary at best, and I followed it past a few hostels until I found the Oi Suen sign. A young Chinese man welcomed me but spoke no English. Sigh… We figured everything out, and he showed me to my cell. In its defense, it was clean. It was taller than it was long or wide—a light-green-tiled compartment, I’d call it. He pulled the dingy sheet off Sandra’s cot and flipped it up so I had a wooden platform for my stuff. No extra space. No window. There was an air conditioner and a fan, and a tiny green tile bathroom.

My “cell” at Oi Suen

I coped, thanks to earplugs and my computer. I wandered the streets and enjoyed a sweet & sour pork dinner with shrimp wontons–about the only Chinese food I’ve liked.
Whew!
Next stop: Bangkok. Curt—the saintly husband of my friend Beth’s sister, Kathleen—waited in the endless arrival hall holding a sign with my name on it. He guided me across the city on public transport while Kathleen finished her day teaching at the Bangkok Christian College, a boys’ school. Curt gallantly carried my 35-pound suitcase up and down more stairs than I could count, and we finally landed at their classy apartment complex. Curt had just started working weekends for Habitat, refurbishing schools and building houses for flood victims. What a guy.

We shared a scrumptious Thai dinner, and the next morning Kathleen and I rendezvoused for breakfast with my good friend Leah.

Kathleen and I at breakfast

 

The five of us (Leah had two guests from the U.S.) took a boat upriver (an adventure in itself) to visit Bangkok’s Grand Palace–think Anna and the King of Siam.

 Leah and I on the boat to the Grand Palace

Big hotels provide these river shuttles

The palace was stunning in spite of the repeated showers that deluged us.

Love the rooftop decor on the Wat (temples)

A smiling monk welcomes visitors to the palace grounds

This lion guards the entrance to the Jade Buddha

I often saw these five-headed serpents guarding stairway entrances:

Even live guards prevent encroachments in the palace.

We also visited the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha (gold) in the Wat Pho Temple.

This reclining Buddha’s head had to be  five feet from chin to eyebrow.

Temples abound in Bangkok, and if that’s not enough, most buildings have an ornate Spirit House at one corner, designed to please the spirits (both good and evil) that might otherwise create mischief for the residents. Saturday morning we passed a spirit house where people had left flowers, eggs, fruit, and a roast duck. I hope these are later shared with the poor (if the spirits don’t devour them, of course).

A typical spirit house in Thailand


After a few nights with Leah, I flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I was picked up at the airport by a young man who led me to what I thought was a pickup truck with a topper. Not so. It was a songthaew, or two-bench bus, a typical form of transport in Thailand. The covered bed of the truck has two facing benches, and the back is open, so it’s important to hang on to the ceiling rod. No seat belts. I sat alone in the back, although the passenger seat in front was vacant. Oh, well.

This  songtheaw waits to load outside a school

It took a half hour to get to the Secret Garden, an exquisite little bungalow resort 12 kilometers from the city. The air resounds with gentle music, bird songs, and the splash of a fountain near the thatched dining room. It’s absolutely lovely, rated second of over 300 Chaing Mai hotels (Trip Advisor). I’m staying in the Hibiscus, a spacious and well-appointed bungalow with a mini-kitchen, sitting areas indoors and out, and mosquito netting over the bed. Totally charming. I know I use that word a lot, but nothing else really works.

The Hyacinth, my home in Chiang Mai

a little fountain just outside the dining area

 The trickling fountain cools the atmosphere at the Secret Garden

Tuesday I visited the Elephant Nature Park, a preserve that rescues handicapped and mistreated elephants. Lek Chailerk, the founder, has dedicated her life not only to saving elephants, but also to educating both the public and mahouts (elephant trainers) of the need to treat the animals humanely. There used to be about 25,000 elephants working in Thailand, mostly in the logging trade, but since logging was abolished in 1989, many have been destroyed while others have been enlisted into begging, tourism, and various other uses.

Elephants roam free at the Elephant Nature Park

Some elephants are tame enough to be touched by anyone:


One of Lek’s elephants was blinded by her mahout when she refused to work after her baby died in a fall from the mountain. Another was maimed when she stepped on a land mine. After watching an educational video on our way to the park, we helped feed the 35 elephants (who eat 10% of their body weight each day), we climbed in the river to help them bathe, and we watched them cavort in the mud.

Tons of bananas, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and squash are delivered daily.

One very tired elephant waits for lunch

Visitors and volunteers help feed the 35 pachyderms

We helped the more tame ones enjoy a daily bath

A mud bath is an afternoon treat

A few performed tricks for us (former circus elephants), and one has developed her own method of kissing people on the cheek. Let me tell you, that’s some SMACK! The end of their trunks are huge and slobbery.

The KISS!

Each of the elephants has a mahout who sticks with it most of the day, and the loving bond between  them is almost tangible. Some of them are naughtier than others, and we watched the active and positive management of their mahouts.

This mahout stayed close to his elephant all day long.

And a final farewell to elephants!

Here’s a video of logging elephants at work in 1925 (Thailand was then called Siam) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKjaiW6gHPQ
Wednesday I caught a ride to the highway, where I climbed into a public songthaew for a 45¢ ride to the old city. I toured a number of temples (wats), then visited a museum, caught a very spicy lunch, and indulged in a Thai foot massage by a blind person. One hour for $4.50. Amazing.

A dichotomy at Wat Bupparam



Wat Bupparam rooftop:

Chiang Mai’s famous Wat Phra Singh graces the old town:

Wat Phra Singh Buddha

Wat Phra Singh back of the temple

 

Wat Phra Singh monk walks through park surrounding the Wat

On my last day in Chiang Mai I visited an umbrella factory where they make handmade bamboo umbrellas covered with handmade paper.
A worker ties supports to the umbrella ribs

Another worker pounds a top onto the umbrella frame

painted umbrellas dry in the sun

The umbrella and fan painters are also eager to paint your clothes, cell phones, and bags for a very reasonable price—between $1.50 and $5. These artisans worked like lightning and were great fun to watch. In addition to a few other embellishments on shirts and pants, I got an elephant butt painted on my camera lens. Why not?

An artist paints a design onto a tourist’s pants ($1.50)

I brought in a shirt to be painted, which cost me double ($3)

I’m now back in sweltering Bangkok, and tomorrow I head back to Istanbul to pick up Libby, then Monday I head back home to chilly Minnesota.
Actually, I can’t wait.

Snow and Tears in Istanbul

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

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

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Saturday morning dawned drizzly. Sigh…

Istanbulites forge on into the drizzle (and snow)

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

One of the many vendors just outside the Spice Bazaar


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

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

 

The ferry to Kadiköy was packed–and quite modern

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

My buddy David toasts to winter in Istanbul.

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


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

David and I after a delicious Turkish breakfast at Beylerbeyi.

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

Julide poses with David outside the palace…

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

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

 

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


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

The sweet Beylerbeyi Iskele (ferry station)


Fishing boats moored just outside our little restaurant

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

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

Snow below my apartment…

…snow on the Bosphorus at sunrise…

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

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

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


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

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

Who could resist loving these kids, huh?


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

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

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Not too bad.

Taking leave of Arnavutköy



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

Arnavutköy’s famous ‘seaside houses’~

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

More of Arnavutköy’s Ottoman houses below my apartment



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

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


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

Fishing boats along the Arnavutköy pier~

A statue to Ataturk in the town square~

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

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

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

The Electric Shop’s guard dog–NOT!

 

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

My electronics hero–note the workdesk to his left.

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

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

Another happy customer in the Boğaziçi Elektrik shop~


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

Farewell, sweet bakery!


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

Farewell to the Tuesday street market!

Farewell to the cobbler!

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

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

Ah, Arnavutköy!

Antalya and the -çi’s

Antalya does not disappoint. This sunny city on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast is picturesque, its denizens are friendly, and the food is delicious. This is my fourth trip here, Libby’s second, and my friend Jerry’s first.

A sculpted hand reaches to heaven beside the Mediterranean and the Taurus Mountains.


After landing on Christmas Eve day, we settled into the Atıcı Pension and headed straight out to explore. A few blocks down the old city’s narrow, cobbled streets we peeked into a charming little bar, where we couldn’t resist stopping for a beer in their sunlit courtyard—sheer heaven after Istanbul’s morning’s snow flurries.

We indulge in a first Antalya brew at the Simpre Temple Pub

From there our explorations included carpet shops (Jerry finally indulged—surprise), shoe shines, and various culinary delights.

You haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed a bubbling shrimp güveç–shrimp casserole.

Our Christmas Day treat was a boat ride along the Mediterranean shore. Jerry and I reveled at the sights while Libby flirted with a little Turkish boy who plied her with corn chips. They both loved it.

Libby poses with her new young friend and his mother on the boat deck.


After a few nights in the Atıcı, we moved to a more central (and more charming) hotel. The Abad Hotel belongs to Işmail (as in “Call me Ishmael”), the carpet merchant Jerry succumbed to. He gave us a great rate and has treated us like royalty. When he learned Jerry wasn’t feeling well, he had his staff brew a special tea for stomach ailments, adaçay—sage tea. We have a spacious room on the third floor with a view of the Kesik Minaret (Truncated Minaret) ruin up the street.

Jerry and I pose outside the Abad Hotel with the Truncated Minaret behind us.


My favorite find here, though, has been a ceramic artist, Sadrettin Savaş. We passed his shop on Saturday afternoon, then on Monday we visited the Suna İnan Kiraç Museum, which featured his clay caricatures of Ottoman street peddlers. The museum also had a stunning display of typical Ottoman scenes with life-like mannikins in Ottoman dress.

Ottoman women in the harem at the Suna Kiraç Museum:

 


Anyway, I visited Sadrettin’s shop Tuesday morning and was thoroughly taken with this delightful artist—and musician. He plays the kanun, a Turkish instrument similar to an autoharp. Though my Turkish is sadly limited, we were able to communicate enough for me to understand that although Sadri considers himself an amateur artist, he’s been doing clay sculptures and caricatures for 35 years.

Sadrettin relaxes in the showroom off his studio.

He was born in Eskişehir, a city south-east of Istanbul, about a third of the way to Antalya. Sadri’s storefront is his workshop, its main room dominated by a vast, high table where he works on about ten sculptures simultaneously. These ten-or-more sculptures are in various stages of completion, each ready for the next painstakingly molded “next piece” to be added. I watched as Sadri molded a base for cart pedestals for one character, a scarf for a second character, and a cap for a third. Though I don’t know all the Turkish names for his characters, I found them all enchanting.

Sadrettin at work on his sculptures

The ones I know best are the simitçi (the man who sells simits—round bagel-like breads),

the boyaci (who shines shoes),

the bakırcı (coppersmith),

the fotografci (photographer),

and the hamal (porter or carrier).

Oh–there’s also the kuyumcu, the jeweler.

In Turkish, the suffix -cı indicates “one who sells or makes” something. (or -çi, -çu, or -cu, depending on the vowels in the base word–never mind!)

To see a short video of Sadrettin’s sweet sculptures, go to http://www.nelervar.com/G%C3%BCzel%20Sanatlar-ANTALYA!1-8-66-3!

There are lots of -ci’s selling things here in Antalya, and we’ve certainly done our part to support them (though we’ve refused far more). My sidekick Libby has made her mark also— as a “kediçi” who deals in cats (kedi). Chasing them. One young kitten jumped about five feet when Libby surprised her. It would have been sad if it hadn’t been so hilarious.

Twas the week before Christmas…in Istanbul

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

Thursday evening’s view of the Blue Mosque

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

I’ll never tire of looking at carpets.

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

A man prayed in the Laleli Mosque

The Laleli Mosque viewed through the chimneys of the Taş Han

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

A rejuvenating cup of Turkish coffee

…and a unique wedding ensemble near the Grand Bazaar

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire class posed with their ancient English teacher

 

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

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

A busy week in Istanbul

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

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

The Boza man outside my door

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

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

The Galata Tower

A fashion photographer and model near the tower

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

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

Michael sang his selections

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

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

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

The changing of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

The grooming of the guard at Dolmabahçe Palace

22 RC Resident Students pose by the Swan Fountain

Then they proudly model their new palace footwear

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

 

Yup, I was there, too!

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

The delectable and famous Turkish asure. YUM!

Slovenia and then…

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

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

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

The Ljutomer Cathedral, both exterior and interior views:

 


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


The foggy Frank-Ozmec Farm (and horse)

One of their welcoming recycled wine barrels

The fabulous cook, Vida–unassuming and gracious:


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

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

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

A warm welcome from the Ljutomer High School:


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

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

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


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

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

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

And their descent back down the spiral stairs–

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

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

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

Dragon bids us a final farewell.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Drinks, etc.

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

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

The bozaci (boza man) at Vefa Bozacisi in Istanbul

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

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

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

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

Salep straight from the samovar on the street.

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

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

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

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

The waterfront at Ortaköy

 

A fisherman checking his gear

Mussels on sale in an Ortaköy kiosk

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

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

 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(Or Istanbul…)