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!!!

Paddling the Pukaskwa

They say the Pukaskwa Peninsula (pronounced PUCK-a-saw) is the most beautiful stretch of Lake Superior as well as its most challenging. Yup, our adventure across 120 miles on the east side of Lake Superior’s North Shore was both gorgeous and tough.

We seven youngsters (ages 61-73) headed off early on a Wednesday morning and arrived at the Pukaskwa Park campground in time to make dinner. Jerry and Jim (stalwarts both) crawled out of their tents at 5 AM to drive our vehicles two hours to the other end and caught a prearranged shuttle back ($600—not cheap). By the time they returned, the rest of us had broken camp, hauled the kayaks to the beach at Hattie Cove, and had everyone’s gear ready to load. You wouldn’t believe how much a kayak can hold—the contents of two large plastic bins, and then some.

Hattie Cove, our launching point near Marathon, Ontario:

Kayaks loaded and ready to launch by noon:


We launched into calm waters, the sun shining on our azure inland sea The shoreline’s mammoth stone edifices were garbed in pines growing on no soil at all.

Dick & Jini head out of Hattie Cove to explore Lake Superior:

So began 12 days of paddling in every condition from calm water to 7-foot waves. Our 17-foot kayaks rode up and down rather than through the waves, so we got to surf a bit. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first campsite was 10K (6 miles) from our launch, which we paddled in less than three hours, marveling at the rocky coastline, picturesque inlets, and dancing waters.

The sun followed us the whole time—except for one rainy day.

We were all getting our “sea arms” but were happy to pull up onto the white sand beach of the Willow River, our first home.

Kayaks pulled up on the Willow Creek Beach, away from the big lake.

The campsite had plenty of space, an actual outhouse, and a suspension bridge just up the river.

Willow Creek’s amazing suspension bridge that we couldn’t even sway:

Dick went out fishing, and the rest of us set up camp, relaxed on the beach, swam in Lake Superior (which is usually far too cold, but not this year—global warming?). My friend Jerry was new to kayaking Lake Superior, and he dove into the experience with gusto. Susan and Jim served hors d’oeuvres, burritos, and dessert, a pattern repeated each night. We lived high, but decided on one-pot meals in the future (with hors d’oeuvres and dessert, of course).

Our first Lake Superior sunset:

We enjoyed eleven campsites, all pristine sand beaches a la Caribbean, some a thousand feet long. The water was aquamarine blue and amazingly warm, so we swam every day but one (rain).

The second night we were crowded on a SMALL pristine beach:

 

Wavelets were common, as streams often flowed near the beaches.

Then there were the waves. We had two days of flat water—well, one and a half.

One of our calmer mornings; Tom and Jerry peruse maps as a distant bluff watches over them.

Though a windless day was a rarity, it got darned hot without a breeze.

Sometimes the wind comes up out of nowhere on Lake Superior, particularly on the east side, which makes the Pukaskwa Peninsula a challenge. We paddled into the wind, with the wind at our sides, and with it at our backs. I’d thought I hated side winds the most, but at least you can see what’s coming.

It was hard to take photos in waves, and we often completely lost our compatriots behind the swells.

On the fifth day after being wind-bound all afternoon in Bonamie Cove, we decided to give it another try around dinnertime. The waves were 8-10 feet high, and when Dick got pounded by a wave straight into his chest, he yelled at us all to turn around. Turning was difficult in such high winds, but we each waited for a set of smaller waves (under 5 feet) and turned as fast as we could before more big ones came. It was all I could do to keep my kayak on a straight line as the waves lifted me from the back, threatening to toss me aside. I make it sound scary, but it was also great fun. Jerry said he would have liked to go on, and Dick’s comment was, “But you might not have made it.” This was intended to be a safe trip.

Jini Jerry and Dick discuss our options after we’re wind-bound by sudden winds behind Le Petit Mort Rocks.

The next morning we launched into the waves from our sand beach.

Jerry helped Susan and Jim launch their tandem into the waves.

Another highlight of the trip was the Pukaskwa pits, which are nest-like formations of rounded stones in vast fields of lichen-covered rocks. No one knows what they are, how old they are, or what they were for, but they are clearly man-made, perhaps for food storage or some religious observance. Hunting, perhaps? We found one that was about 9 feet across and probably four feet deep, perfectly rounded.

Dick stands in a Puckaskwa Pit near the end of our trip.

On our whole trip we only saw two other kayak groups, two sets of canoeists, a sailboat, and a solo kayaker. On our ninth (windy) morning we pulled into a small, protected cove for a respite from the waves and found a lone kayaker hopping around on the rocks like a mountain goat. Finn greeted us warmly, explaining that he was touring the Ontario coast of Lakes Superior and Huron to Georgian Bay, near Toronto. He planned to do it in a month, traveling about 70 K  (40 miles) a day. We were averaging about 12 miles a day. Needless to say, we were greatly impressed at our newfound hero. He used a Greenland paddle, less than four inches wide, and he could paddle circles around us.

Finn beams as Jerry shows off his Greenland paddle.

Finn is 70 years old and has circumnavigated Lake Superior twice. He grew up on the Faroe Islands, a tiny country in the Norwegian Sea midway between Great Britain, Norway, and Iceland. He regaled us with tales about his youth, his adventures, his wife, and his cabin in Michipikoten, our destination. He told us about the best campsites ahead, and as he paddled by our site at 6AM the next morning, he blew his horn to wake us. “Wind’s on the water already—time to get up!” We got up early to beat the wind on our last three days.

We never saw a bear, but we often found bear and moose tracks in the sand.

A stunning view from a stonefield where we hunted for a Pukaskwa pit.

Tom heads out early from a morning break on the rocks, halfway to our lunch destination.

I have many more stories to tell: Jerry leaving a pile of gear at a campsite, Jini and I sneaking off to skinny-dip, Jerry’s kayak floating away at the Pukaskwa River, camping in the rain beside a 100-year-old chimney (great fire!), finding a rock carved with the name of someone who drowned on November 7, 1920, discovering three falling-down log cabins, and the list goes on.

We lucked out on our one rainy day with a concrete chimney in the woods. Jerry and Jim sawed wood and built a fire to warm us.

A trappers cabin Jini discovered in the woods near Trapper’s Harbor, aptly named.

We had an amazing trip, and after being delayed again by high winds, we finally surfed our kayaks onto Indian Beach, thirteen days after we left Grand Marais. Let me tell you, paddling Lake Superior is a real rush, and the Pukaskwa is the bomb.

Of course, I sure didn’t mind my cozy bed at home on Monday night.

The Stalwart Seven, Bottom row: Dick Swanson, Jini Danfelt, Susan Gulstrand. Back row: Tom Egan, Ann Mershon, Jerry Wilkes, and Jim Gulstrand

 

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.

Our Continuing Saga of Far East Adventures

Sandra and I topped off our Taipei stay by basking in a mountain spa,

The hot-springs stream just above our spa hotel:

The hotel rooftop spa–can’t see the mountains in the fog:

 

then took the high speed train to stay with with Linda, Les, and Linda’s sister Chris in Koahsiung (Gow-SHUNG), where Linda teaches at the American School.

We biked everywhere in Kaohsiung—you can rent from bike racks on the street, and if you just use them an hour, there’s no charge. A full day of biking cost about $5.

Sandra pulling a bike from the rental rack:

I had just a little trouble raising my seat:

Linda and Les live near the Love River, which is lined with parkland and a well-kept bike trail.
The first day we biked to Linda’s school

The Kaohsiung American School—and Linda:

then Lotus Pond, where Chinese New Year festivities were in full swing. A Massive tiger and dragon regurgitated Chinese revelers from pavilions at one end of the lake.

The dragon and tiger spew revelers through open jaws:

We parked our bikes amid a thousand scooters, then elbowed our way through the street, occasionally pausing to indulge in street foods and bargains. The Purchase of the Day was a watch for $1.50 (still running a week later).

This Foo Dog guards a lakeside temple:

Street food anyone? Skewered grilled squid at the ready:



Sandra purchases a bag of cheap watches:

Lotus grace pools beside the lake:

 

Another Kaohsiung highlight was a lantern festival along the river. Schoolchildren spend months creating elaborate lanterns for this competition each year, and since 2012 is the year of the dragon, that was the predominate theme. My favorites were lanterns obviously done by the students (some looked WAY too professional), particularly those crafted with recycled materials. One dragon was made of bubble-wrap and soft-drink lids,

The bubble-wrap and drink-lid dragon:

another of sticks gathered along the river, and many were fashioned with recycled pop bottles. We wandered past scores of lantern displays, marveling at the creativity and effort put into each display. We also chatted with a few of their proud creators.

This princess was a part of a more professional lantern scene:

This dragon was recycled from bottles and cans:

Schoolchildren proud of their artistic creation:

We also trekked to the Foguangshan Monastery one day—an extensive edifice with myriad monks, numerous temples, and a massive retreat center. The air reverberated with musical chanting by worshipers in the main temple, and we were twice entertained by a small parade, surely a part of the new year’s festivities. We opted not to lunch in their total-silence dining hall and bought street food from booths outside the monastery—vegetarian options only.

I loved the eves of all the monastery buildings:

Monks seeking donations from the New Year’s crowd:

Devout Taiwan citizens chant and pray in a temple lined with thousands of Buddha statues:

A close-up of the niches covering the walls of this temple:

A laughing Buddha in the parade draws many donations:

High on the hill, a 118-foot golden Buddha gestures to all of Taiwan:

Our last day in Kaohsiung was another bike trek (hooray!) to   Qijin Island, a ferry ride across
the harbor. Crowded with revelers, it offered endless street foods and souvenirs, an entire indoor bazaar of dried fish stands, a black sand beach, and a hike up to the lighthouse. I splurged on a pair of flip-flops ($3). All in all, a good day.

Sandra and Linda crossing the street to the ferry boat to the island


This was one of hundreds of dried fish booths in the bazaar. The tassels twirl on a fan to keep the flies away:

For some reason, ice cream in a toilet-shaped container just didn’t appeal:

A view of Kaohsiung from the island lighthouse:


Sandra and I flew to Hong Kong, explored the art museum and surrounding city, then headed to the airport for our greatly-anticipated beach vacation in Hainan. Sadly, the web sites informing us we didn’t need a visa were mistaken. A speedy visa would cost $320 each, and we’d lose two nights on Hainan. We gave up our trip. Sigh…
After two hours on line searching for another destination that evening, we gave up and spent $200 for a room at the airport hotel. What do you do? Of course, the exclusive hotel included neither free wireless nor breakfast. I’ve never understood why exclusive hotels offer the least free amenities.
We finally found a little beach hotel on Lamma Island, a ferry ride from Hong Kong. We dragged our suitcases about a half hour up and down concrete paths through Yung Shue Wan village and through the forest to the Concerto Hotel on Hung Shing Yeh Beach. Our room is small but bright, and our balcony overlooks a sweet sand beach.

This is the beach view from our balcony:

Our sweet accommodations—not quite Hainan, but just fine for now:


Yung Shue Wan is a hippie-haven type place with more ex-pats than we’ve seen on our entire trip. Our activities here include relaxing, hiking, eating and napping, not necessarily in that order. So—in spite of a visa debacle, we’re content.

On The Road to Taiwan

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

Decorations at the Hong Kong airport:

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

Even Starbuck’s had Chinese New Year decorations:

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

Pretty nice digs at the Hansome Business Hotel:

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

National Palace Museum, Taipei:

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

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

Ah, Chinese street food:

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


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

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

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

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

The Longshan Temple, Chinese New Year’s Eve:

Lighting incense from candles in the temple:

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

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

Fireworks through the window at the Longshan Temple:


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

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


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

The most attractive of our Thai meals: Curried Shrimp:

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

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

The accoutrements for tea brewing at our tea house:

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

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



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

 

Snow and Tears in Istanbul

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

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

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Saturday morning dawned drizzly. Sigh…

Istanbulites forge on into the drizzle (and snow)

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

One of the many vendors just outside the Spice Bazaar


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

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

 

The ferry to Kadiköy was packed–and quite modern

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

My buddy David toasts to winter in Istanbul.

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


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

David and I after a delicious Turkish breakfast at Beylerbeyi.

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

Julide poses with David outside the palace…

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

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

 

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


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

The sweet Beylerbeyi Iskele (ferry station)


Fishing boats moored just outside our little restaurant

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

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

Snow below my apartment…

…snow on the Bosphorus at sunrise…

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

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

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


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

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

Who could resist loving these kids, huh?


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

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

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Not too bad.

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!