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.


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.

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.

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.

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.?”

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

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

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.

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

“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.

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.

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.

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!

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…)


Ottoman, Anka, and Pizza

As I sit writing in the overstuffed brown leather chair with my feet propped on its matching ottoman, I wonder why my footstool has the same name as Turkey’s centuries-long empire. In a quick hunt for the word’s etymology, and I find an unsatisfying explanation that the Ottomans liked reclining on long couches, so the name was attached to couches and eventually footstools. Hmph!

Enjoying the comfy chair and OTTOMAN

It’s been a busy week here, starting Monday evening with a Paul Anka concert. Four of us 50+ female teachers trekked across the city for this concert, wondering what we were thinking, not quite sure what to expect. Anka is no longer the wavy-haired pouty-mouthed fellow I remember, but a trim 70-year-old Tony Bennet look-alike.


The younger and the more recent Paul Anka


He played his audience like a Las Vegas night club crowd, and we reveled in it. People shook his hand, danced with him, and we sang gleefully along to “Diana,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Puppy Love.” Enthusiasm abounded in the packed auditorium of Turkish Paul Anka fans—an amazing concert.

I never realized Paul Anka wrote “My Way” for Frank Sinatra and “She’s a Lady” for Tom Jones, as well as numerous other hits.  Apparently he kept writing after he left the limelight, developing deep friendships with stars like Michael Jackson and Sammy Davis, Jr.


My biggest thrill this week, though, was Thursday evening when I hosted my thirteen resident students (students from across Turkey who live on campus) for dinner. I’d given them all maps to my apartment, and they began straggling in just as I was ordering pizza after racing home from an after-school meeting. I was on Yemek (meaning: food basket), an amazing Turkish food delivery web site. There are nearly 200 restaurants that will deliver to my apartment in Arnavutköy, and there’s no extra charge for the service.

Many have a minimum delivery amount of about $5, but McDonald’s will deliver anything—even an order of fries. Amazing. Each of these restaurants has an online menu on the site, and every kind of food is available, from fast food to traditional Turkish foods to high-end fish dinners. Food delivery motorcycles toot up and down the hills of Istanbul day and night, let me tell you.

McDonald’s delivery scooters at the ready… (photo by Norma B.)


Anyway, three boys arrived early and helped me finish choosing the pizzas from Little Caesars (yes, we have it here). I ordered five large pizzas, which I thought would be plenty. Most of my guests were boys, though—teenaged boys. Had I forgotten about the bottomless teenaged stomach? I threw together a big salad, and everyone said they got enough to eat, though I wonder. Next time I’ll make a huge pot of stew or something.

A few of my guests arrived bearing lavish bouquets, which have brightened my apartment all week—how incredibly sweet!

One of my stunning bouquets

One joy of this spacious apartment is that there’s room to entertain a crowd, and we had space for everyone to sit together around the living room. I taught them to play charades, and I haven’t laughed so hard in ages. Remember, lots of these kids have pretty shaky English, so there were plenty of mistakes and long Thinking Pauses. Ege had us all in stitches with his expressive gestures and facial expressions, mostly just while contemplating. Tuna was laughing so hard he had to leave the room.

Libby and I walked everyone back up to campus (she’d been cheated of her early evening walk), and I felt a bit tearful as I bid them farewell. They all had homework, though—the never ending plague of the Robert College student. Many of them work 3-4 hours every night. They’re serious about education here; they see it as their job.

That, my friends, was the highlight of my week, and I forgot to take photos. I was just too darned busy reveling in the warmth of these kids. Gosh, I love them.


I did take the camera on my morning walk with Libby, and I have a few photos to share from the area around our home here. Enjoy.

One of my favorite streets in town–The Antik Locanda restaurant.

The facade of our local Greek Orthodox Church, with services every week.


A local metal-polisher outside his shop.

And a photo of a produce truck that sells on a city street on Saturdays.

Cappadocia, Ataturk, and Iskender

Oh, my—it’s been an interesting few weeks! My friends Norma and Arvid just left for Minneapolis after a full schedule in Istanbul. During the Kurban Bayramı we trekked to Cappadocia, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It has amazing geological formations (fairy chimneys), warm people, and my favorite hotel, The Kelebek.

Ah, beautiful Cappadocia!

The lovely Kelebek Hotel in Göreme

The first day we explored Göreme and its fascinating Open Air Museum of ancient churches carved into the rock.

Me with the Open Air Museum behind me–no photos allowed inside the churches.

Part of a carved stone church with the walls broken away.

My friend Arvid atop a camel–Ride ’em Cowboy!

The next day we took a fascinating tour of more hidden churches, an archeological dig, and the underground city (with a delicious Turkish repast at noon). Sadly, neither Norma nor I was successful at managing the claustrophobic underground tunnels, but Arvid braved his emotional storm and made it eight stories down. Kudos to Arvid!

A carved stone church along our hike, this one with a dome–hence, it’s called the Domed Church.

An interior wall of one of the churches we visited.

The underground city–photo by Arvid, the only successful descender (of the three of us).

A woman we spotted along our hike, kneading or mixing something outside her home.

I have a little update on the Kurban Bayram. Although people are expected to use experienced butchers for the sacrifice, many attempt to slaughter animals on their own. My office compatriots informed me Thursday morning that several people had died during the sacrifice. One man was sacrificing a cow on a platform, and the platform collapsed , crushing him under the animal. Two more men suffered heart attacks while trying to control animals they were intending to sacrifice. Apparently 1000 people across the country were injured in the first two days of the bayram while trying to slaughter animals. Over 500 in Istanbul sought medical attention after either cutting themselves or being injured by their unruly victims. Apparently this is the darker side of the celebration.
Thursday (November 10) was Ataturk Day, the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death in 1938. It’s a big deal here in Istanbul, as he is the greatly revered founder of their country. At 9:05 everything stopped for a moment of silence in his memory. I was in class at the time, and as soon as we heard the sirens, we stopped what we were doing and everyone stood at silent attention until the sirens ended a few minutes later. Apparently it’s even more impressive in the streets. All traffic stops and people step out of their cars to stand at silent attention. I discovered a short video of that moment on an Istanbul street–check it out:

I have to admit, watching it brought tears to my eyes, probably because of how strongly it evidences this country’s reverence for the father of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I wonder if we Americans could ever come up with that kind of collective devotion to our country or its heroes. Doubtful. Maybe to the almighty dollar, though.
The only other thing I’m going to share today is the incredible dinner Arvid, Norma, and I shared on Friday evening. It was a cold, rainy day, but we still met at Eminönü to ferry across to Kadiköy for the original Iskender, a favorite dish in Turkey. It’s delightfully decadent.

Arvid and I eagerly anticipate a delicious platter of Iskender.

Start with crusty pide bread cut into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter. Cover that with a generous few layers of thinly-sliced döner, spiced layers of lamb roasted on a vertical spit. It’s like the Greek version used in gyro sandwiches, but the Turks insist it’s far better (like comparing steak to hamburger, according to Arvid’s Turkish friend Harun). That layer is slathered with a spicy tomato sauce and surrounded with sliced tomatoes, grilled peppers, and a hearty dollop of yogurt. It’s brought to the table on a hot platter, then  a waiter drizzles the entire plate with butter from a sizzling frying pan. Oh, my goodness! It’s the pinnacle of delicious.

Norma cheerfully dives in. (She couldn’t finish it all, but I had no problem.)

See the butter swimming under the bread and meat? Oh, yum!

Though Norma and Arvid had experienced a wide variety of delectable Turkish cuisine, this was by far their favorite. By the way, Iskender is named after Alexander the Great, who conquered Turkey for the Macedonian Empire around 300 BC. What a tribute, huh?
Thus ends yet another chapter of sharing Turkey—with my friends and with you. I have a quiet week ahead, but I’ll think of something to write about. I promise. I’m having my fourteen resident students for dinner this week. That will be an adventure in itself.

Kurban Bayramı 101

In a few days Turkey will celebrate Kurban Bayramı—a holiday I’d always found horrifying—riddled with roadside animal carcasses. I really didn’t get it. İrem Eren, my office mate, opened my eyes to the generous traditions of this holiday, and later I discussed  it with senior Özdemir Vayisoğlu, our Bosphorus Chronicle Editor. I think I’m starting to get it. It’s all about sacrifice and generosity.

My lovely colleague, İrem


İrem and Özdemir come from smaller cities and fascinated me with tales of what their families do. When I talked with my other students I learned that about a third of their families follow the traditions of bayram. İrem generously invited me to spend Kurban Bayramı with her family, which I would have loved if I hadn’t already made plans to travel to Cappadocia with my friends from the States.

A little research revealed that Kurban Bayramı is the most important Islamic religious festival of the year. Celebrating Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, the head of each Turkish household sacrifices a sheep on the morning of the first day of the holiday. Though common all over Turkey, it’s less typical in the cities than in rural areas.

Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, offers a 100 lira discount on livestock shipments for bayram.

Özdemir explained that early on the first morning of the four-day bayram everyone goes to the mosque for a short prayer called bayramnamazı. After the prayer they gather to chat in the courtyard before heading home to prepare for the kurban—the sacrifice of an animal.

Wealthier families hire someone to do the kurban. He recites something from the Koran, then (a-hem) slits the sheep’s throat. I noticed that neither Özdemir nor İrem chose to speak in those terms. They seemed sensitive about the slaughter, but it is what it is. İrem’s family has a butcher perform the kurban, which might be done on a sheep, a goat, or a cow (which might be purchased together by a few families).


Özdemir explained that the hired man would cut up the meat into large pieces and and put into huge flat trays, which men carried into the house. There the women would divide the meat into smaller pieces and package it. In İrem’s family, her job is to make the labels for each package based on a long list they have compiled of people who they want to help.

Özdemir , Chief Editor of our school newspaper

Each sheep is divided into fifteen to twenty packets, a good deal of meat. Once the meat is packaged, it is immediately piled into the trunk of a car and delivered to the homes of the needy. Of course, some meat is kept behind for serving guests.


Guests and visits. The rest of the holiday is spent visiting family, friends, and business associates. The women of the household have been baking and cooking for weeks to prepare for all the visitors. “We make a list of everyone we want to visit,” İrem explained. “It includes all the relatives and also friends and business associates. We usually have a list of about 100 people to visit in the three or four days of Kurban Bayramı. You just have about fifteen minutes to eat a little and have some tea. We usually have sweets at people’s houses, and you get so SICK of eating all the sweets. But you know Turkish hospitality. There’s no way you can say no, so you just eat some more,” Irem said with a smile.

She went on to explain that when the people they are visiting aren’t home,  they leave a note to let them know you stopped by. She said her father cleverly hurries to the home of anyone he sees out visiting because then he can get by with just leaving  a note. With 100 people to visit, I can certainly understand.
Özdemir’s grandfather was a community and political leader, so his family often slaughtered two or three sheep. Until his grandfather died at 101, they stayed at home and let other people visit them. “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you 100 people visited my grandfather every day. We had to have a lot of food ready for everyone. I sometimes went out to visit my relatives, but there was always someone home with my grandparents.”

I had to chuckle when my friend sent me a flyer from Migros, a Turkish grocery chain, advertising prices for sheep and cows, which varied according to the amount of meat and whether it was delivered or picked up at a store. The sheep looked so sweet that I couldn’t help but name them. “You can choose Irma or Edna or Eunice, or perhaps you’d prefer Bossy the cow.”

Yes, it’s a different world than most of us live in, but how often are we westerners so generous to strangers? Food for thought—pardon the pun.

Aqueducts and Charcoal

Last Sunday I touched a remnant of the longest aqueduct system in ancient history, and it’s in—Ta-Da! Turkey! Over 250 kilometers long, this aqueduct once supplied the city of Constantinople with water from the Istranja Mountains near the Black Sea, 65 kilometers away. So why was it 250 kilometers long, you wonder? (I did.) It’s because it snaked through the mountains, tunneling through and winding around them. It was reputedly the most outstanding surveying achievement of the pre-industrial world. Impressive.

A portion of the Anastasian Long Wall–impressive, huh?

We left sunny Istanbul in high spirits, but clouds gathered as we rode the bus a few hours. We’d been promised views of the Anastasian Wall (Long Wall of Thrace), a defense that extended 64 kilometers between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. We saw small sections of this massive wall through woodsy brambles and undertgrowth, a bit of a disappointment. The wall was once over 9 feet thick and 16 feet high, but we never saw more than about a six-foot span. Our stalwart group of 30 (including our Ottoman historian guide) braved glucky mud and a light drizzle to see more, but our best sightings were actually from the bus.

Ah, the spectacular Black Sea

We drove all the way to the Black Sea and climbed to a high pinnacle where the wall once stood. No trace today. There were remains of a sweet ancient chapel, though, and Libby did her best to glean as many pricklers as she could from the underbrush.

Wandering around the chapel remains

A close-up of one of the chapel’s arched windows

After scraping pounds of muck off our shoes, we boarded the bus again (the driver had spread newspapers on his carpeted floors) and headed for lunch.

The mud caked our boots, heavier with each step.

Ah, lunch! Long tables were set with artfully arranged salads, mezes, and breads. Once we’d filled up on these vegetable, cheese, and yogurt dishes, we were each brought a well-stewed piece of lamb atop a mountain of buttery pilaf. I’m generally not crazy about either, but these were divine. Libby sat under my chair eager to glean whatever she could of the meat scraps provided by a few of us.

This was the loveliest shepherd’s salad I’ve ever been served.

The meal had lifted our spirits, and as we drove up to view a part of the aqueduct system, my seat-mate exclaimed, “Look! This is how they make charcoal!” as he clambored for his camera. “I have to get a picture of this. It’s what they did hundreds of years ago in Pennsylvania!” A visiting  architect and design professor, he was thrilled to see the massive mounds of wood. After passing a few of these strange structures, the bus pulled over.


We were all fascinated to learn that the charcoal-making process is quite an art. Logs and sticks are cut into about 2-foot lengths and piled in a circle around a 30-foot clearing.

You can see how the logs are piled around the circumference of the mound.

This man will arrange the loose logs that have been tossed up to him.

 These are stacked vertically around a small cavity to make a mound, leaving a vertical space like a chimney up the center as the mound grows. Wood is carefully stacked to leave minimal space between logs and sticks, finally resulting in an artful firewood mound about 12-15 feet high.

This charcoal mound is nearly complete.

It’s then covered with a layer of straw and a second layer of mud. Lit charcoal is dropped down the chimney to start a smoldering fire inside the structure, and the pile smolders until all the moisture has been smoked out of the wood, about two weeks.

A smoldering charcoal mound

According to the worker explaining the process, seven tons of wood produce about one ton of charcoal for barbecuing, a necessity in Turkish cuisine.

There were about six mounds ready for covering, and probably five more smoldering in this complex, located deep in the forest.

A few more mounds await straw and mud coverings.

We thanked the men for interrupting their work, then piled back into the bus, which bounced along three more minutes before getting dismally mired in the mucky roadway. We tried pushing, but the bus just slid sideways into the mucky ditch. It meant a longer hike to our aqueduct, so we headed off, leaving the bus driver to find a tow. Thank goodness for cell phones.

As these stalwart warriors pushed, the bus just slid sidways into the ditch.


The long hike to the aqueduct was well worth the work. We hopped stones across a river, then discovered a bevy of wild purple autumn crocuses peering through the woods.


Wild autumn crocuses


Though they were lovely, nothing was as impressive as the stunning stone towers that met us we turned the right at the bottom of a hill. The ancient bridge’s towers were spectacular, dominating the mountainous countryside with their venerable splendor. Apparently this was one of sixty arched stone bridges in the 250 kilometers of the aqueduct system, and 18 more are still intact.

The amazing aqueduct bridge towers as late sunlight slants down across the mountain

We sat at the foot of these mammoth structures, marveling that the architectural genius that kept these structures standing for 1600 years. I couldn’t help but think of the laborers who’d given their lives to constructing these towers, part of someone’s dream to carry mountain water to Constantinople.

Along the Bosphorus

After a week of blustery, cold weather, the sun god has returned to the Bosphorus. We’ve had some large double slightly opaque white jellyfish hanging out near the yachts, though they are fast being replaced by the more common saucer-like moon jellyfish. I always enjoy watching them squirt and stream through the water, though sadly they choose to congregate with the refuse that collects in the lee of the ships. UGH!

Fisherman along the Bosphorus:

The fishermen lining the shore along the walkway have abated, partly because of the recent cold weather, but more likely because the hamsi (anchovy) season is waning. Some of the fishermen are pulling in larger fish, which pleases Libby to no end. The quais also teems with tea, simit (a round sesame-covered bread like a large bagel), and sandwich sellers as well as mobile tackle shops ranging from crude boxes to large vans replete with hooks, lures, bait, and even fishing poles and reels. It’s fun to see these vendors bask in the sun as they await business. I don’t think it really matters whether it’s profitable—location, location, location.

An Arnavutköy simitci (simit seller)

One of the more humble tackle shops:

Something more of a production–artistic, to boot!

And the proud peddler poses with his wares:

This tackle-seller has succumbed to the warmth of the afternoon sun:


Last Saturday Kaptan Mustafa invited me for kahvaltı (breakfast) on his yat (figure it out) moored near Arnavutköy. He’d invited his English-speaking friend Haydar to join us, which was actually quite helpful, as Mustafa’s English is even worse than my Turkish. I’m getting better at conversing, but there’s a lot of repeating and backing up. It works, though.

Kaptan Mustafa makes friends with Miss Libby:

Haydar is a pilot who steers large ships through the dangerous curves and currents on the Bosphorus. When they enter the Bosphorus, a small boat sidles up with a pilot to take over the wheel on the way up this waterway, the busiest in the world. The currents are particularly difficult because a heavier current of salt water flows upstream from the Sea of Marmara, while the less saline water from the Black Sea flows downstream above it. Actually, how do you know which is upstream and which is down when the water flows both ways. Imagine, though, what happens to these opposing currents at each sharp turn of the Bosphorus (and there are at least a dozen in its 17 miles). Haydar said that it takes anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours to go up the Bosphorus, while it takes just 1 1/2 hours to come back down.

At 5 lira a kilo, these hamsi cost about $1.50 a pound.

I learned this week that Turkey’s Prime Minister has proposed digging a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara to accommodate some of these larger vessels, purportedly to ease the heavy Bosphorus traffic. It seems an impossible task, but the Turks can do just about anything when they put their minds to it.
It’s been a crazy-busy week for me with events after school every day and something going on each evening as well. It seems I overbook myself no matter where I live. Tonight I came straight home from school to meet friends of my apartment owner for a pleasant visit over wine and snacks. After bidding them goodbye I threw in a load of laundry and took Libby for her evening walk. When I’m done with this blog I have to press a few pairs of slacks so I don’t look like a vagabond all week. Onward and upward!

Black Sea at Şile and Music at Aya Irini (Haghia Eirene)

Talk about a busy week! My friend Sally  just left after a fun, eventful week. Some people are just darned easy to have around, and Sally is one of them. She revels in every detail of life here, making friends at every turn.

Sally with Çoşkın, one of her many Istanbul friends.

Our friend David and I planned a short trip for Thursday’s Liberation of Istanbul Holiday. David and I worked all day Wednesday at our respective schools while Sally visited Camile (another common friend) in town, then we three met up at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport that evening. I caught a bus at 5:05 here on the European side and arrived at the airport (Asian side) at about 8:15. Over three hours to travel about 20 miles—Istanbul traffic. David was there waiting, and we hunted around for Sally, who’d been there the longest, wandering around wondering where we might be. Poor dear.

We stopped for dinner, then drove just over an hour north to Şile (SHE-lay) on the Black Sea. I’d scoped out a nice seaside resort, but when we finally found it, the entire complex was dark. What??? It was only 10:00! I’d talked to a receptionist the night before, so I tentatively pushed through the revolving door. A clerk materialized from the dark lobby, flipping lights on at the reception desk. Whew!  “Are there any other people here?” I asked in Turkish. He laughed and assured me there were. I didn’t exactly believe him. He certainly had space for us, giving us a corner seaside suite that he said cost twice what we paid. Did we mind?


Imagine waking to this view!

We woke to a stunning seascape, and imagine our surprise when scores of Turks were already enjoying the sumptuous breakfast buffet. Apparently the Şile Resort Hotel teems with people all summer, but in October things get a little lean. After breakfast Sally and I donned our suits for a walk up the beach. David, uninterested in swimming, brought his Kindle.


We picked shells and marveled at the pristine water as we strolled along the deserted beach.


Gorgeous shells–but small

Sally and David strolling on ahead…

after we all snapped  photos of the unique beach litter.

We chuckled at a discarded computer that had washed up on shore–what was THAT about? Though the Black Sea water was cool, it was warmer than most of our northern Minnesota lakes. Finally Sally and I found the perfect place for a swim, which we did. Well, first we waded out for what felt like about a mile Finally Sally dove in, and I joined her in water so shallow we couldn’t frog-kick without scraping our knees.

The water was still shallow quite a distance out from David–camera and Kindle in hand.

Finally the bottom dropped off and we headed out to a small rocky island, feeling a bit like sea nymphs cavorting in the sun. The water was so clear we could see ripples in the sand 20 feet below us.

We spent the afternoon wandering Şile, relaxing over a fish lunch in a seaside cafe, and strolling along the breakwater. At 5:00 scores of boats left their crowded moorings to head out for the evening’s catch—probably the most action the Şile harbor sees.

Sally, David, and I in front of the Şile Harbor fortress.

Şile’s fishing boats moored three deep.

A fisherman mending his nets.

A fishing boat off for the evening catch.

 Friday Sally and David trekked over to Üsküdar to see the stunning Şakırın Camii, the only mosque in Turkey designed by a woman (see my blog for May 25, 2009). As they were leaving, the mosque was stormed by armed bodyguards making way for a visit by Prime Minister Erdoğan. His mother had just died, and he was looking for an appropriate grave site. Apparently that kind of security is common here.

On Saturday evening we joined friends for a concert at the Aya Irini, a Byzantine church inside the walls of Topkapi Palace. The church is renowned for its incredible acoustics, and there are unfortunately only a few concerts there each year. We entered the church through an arched stone entrance and down a long, wide stone ramp. The 1500-year-old structure supposedly stands on the site of Constantinople’s first Christian church. The main sanctuary was flanked by collonnades with a high gold semi-dome at the front, painted with a huge cross.

The Aya Irini in all its splendor before the performance

Already awed at the splendor of the sanctuary, my spine tingled as the orchestra’s first notes reverberated across the centuries. I felt that same excitement when a costumed chorus filled the ancient cathedral with the booming strains of “Carmina Burana” (Carl Orff). Oh, my goodness!

To hear the magic of “Carmina Burana”, click this link:

Monday afternoon a group of students in my English class presented a reenactment of the myth of Pandora. Their chosen accompaniment? ”Carmina Burana.”
Small world.

Sunday trials in Arnavutköy

The weather is cooling off for us here in Istanbul, and I’ve just welcomed my first guest into my spacious Arnavutköy home—Sally Nankivell from Grand Marais. She’d visited the last time I was at Robert College and couldn’t resist the temptation of another trip (lucky me).

Sally arrived on Sunday morning, and I was committed to a parent’s open house at school.

Students chatting outside the building before school.


My friend David (who knew Sally from her last visit) offered to meet her at the airport, a godsend. I sent him off with a set of keys, then took Libby on her morning walk, planning to do some editing and writing before I headed up to school for the open house (my writing has taken a back seat lately). Just as I reached our  building, I was hit with a devastating realization: My keys were still in the apartment. ARAUGHHH!!! This had been my greatest fear since moving in, as I had no landlord.


Libby and I had enjoyed our FLAT walk along the Bosphorous.

All was not lost, though, since I’d anticipated this very dilemma. I’d had an extra set of keys made to leave with the guards up at the school. I’d explained to them in my shaky Turkish that I might need them if I got locked out. Thankful that for once I’d thought ahead, I forged on. It meant a serious uphill climb and a wasted hour, but at least I’d have time to change for the open house. Heck, I told myself, it was good exercise and a gorgeous morning.

No hope of climbing to my fourth floor balcony (the white one)

I huffed and puffed up the final stairway to the guard station, where I explained my plight as best I could. The two guards on duty hunted high and low for the key I’d left there, but it to no avail. “Anahtar yok.” No key. Didn’t they understand? I reminded them that I  had left my key there, and I had to meet with parents in less than two hours. I was looking mighty scruffy in dirty jeans, a t-shirt, sneakers, and bed hair. Would I dare appear to parents like this? Would they balk at trusting their teens to such an airhead? I found someone to translate for me and learned that the guards had passed the key along to the housing supervisor. Unfortunately, she wasn’t on campus, and she wasn’t answering her phone. Sigh…

I decided to climb up to my office to get a little work done (another 99 stairs), but I couldn’t find my reading glasses. This was NOT my day.

I finally got through to Elvan (the housing supervisor), who found someone to retreive the key from her office. My compatriot Reagan took pity on me and kindly drove me home to change. Though there was no time for a shower, at least I was able to don nicer clothes and sort out my hair.

Open house went fine, thanks to my charming translator Irmak—less than half of the parents spoke English.

When I returned home, David and Sally were already lounging in the living room. It felt great to collapse and chat with them for a while and leave the morning’s trials behind.

My living room, where David and Sally awaited me.

My upstairs neighbor, Füsün, had invited us all up for coffee, so we shook ourselves awake to head up. We’d had no idea what a treat we were in for. Füsün’s apartment is two stories—both with breathtaking views of the Bosphorous. We chatted on her rooftop terrace over Turkish coffee, prepared by her charming mother Şukran (from Izmir). I was tickled to meet my new neighbors and look forward to good times with them.

Oh—my doorbell just rang: Füsün’s mother had come down with a tray of three dishes of walnut-sprinkled vanilla pudding. Sadly, David is back at Koç and Sally is visiting our friend Cemile. Guess I’ll have to eat them all myself…


A neighborhood cat supervising the neighborhood from the safety of a car roof..