Navigating Istanbul with my brother

This past weekend I shared Istanbul with my brother Steve, who was easily the most enthusiastic guest I’ve hosted. He LOVED the city, probably as much as I do. Sharing my world with my big brother reminded me, though, how diverse and cumbersome transportation in this city actually is.
I started Sunday morning by taking our school service bus (no cost–hooray!) to Taksim. Though it’s intended for church visits, we use it for everything, and on Sunday mornings it takes less than an hour. After coffee at Starbucks and breakfast at the Marmara Cafe, I hiked down Istaklal (a favorite form of transport) to the Tunel, a funicular that connects Istaklal Caddesi (Freedom Street) with both the ferry boat and the tramway to Sultanahmet. From the bottom of the Tunel I jaywalked to the tramway entrance. Transportation, by the way, is cheap here. A train, ferry, tunel, or ferryboat ride costs just over a dollar, and if you use an akbil (an electronic pass), it charges you for only one ride even if you use multiple forms of transportation.
I rode the tram (state-of-the-art, and ALWAYS crowded) to Sultanahmet, the historical part of the city, then visited the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts (free admission for Turkish school teachers). It’s a museum I’ve always wanted to see but never had the time. Sunday I had time to spare. I chatted with an American who turned out to be an economics professor, just like my brother Steve. Small world!

I walked (free transportation) the five blocks to the hotel and checked in. It was a bit early to head for the airport, but I decided to go ahead and relax with a cup of coffee while I waited for Steve’s plane. I took the tram to Aksaray, where I could catch a metro to the airport, and a friendly young couple guided me the five blocks to the metro station (not marked at the tram, of course. Welcome to Turkey). The whole trip took me about an hour (to go a whopping 21K).
Of course, Steve’s plane was late arriving from Kiev, so I had coffee, then did laps between terminals for an in-terminable hour and a half. ARAUGHHH!!! What was I thinking! Once Steve arrived (BIG hugs!) we hopped a taxi for Sultanahmet. Mistake. It took us an hour to get to Sultanahmet, where the traffic was at a standstill, so we paid our kind driver, hopped out, and hiked the last seven blocks to the hotel, Steve exclaiming in amazement all the way along the steep cobbled street. As I said, walking is the most reliable form of transportation in this city.
We settled into the hotel for three minutes, then headed off to Ortakoy to friends for dinner at 7:00. We took the tram to Kabatas, then hopped on a bus to Ortakoy (after nearly a 20-minute wait), where they have a renowned Sunday bazaar. We were soon packed literally like sardines (one man kept getting his head klonked every time the back door opened), and the bus was moving at about a mile an hour. Finally, we hopped out and again took to our feet. We walked the rest of the way in about ten minutes, leaving our bus in the dust. Yup, feet work best in Istanbul!
We had a delightful dinner at the Sedir Restaurant, then wandered a bit, taking photos of the lovely Ortakoy Mosque against the night-lit Bosporus. Lovely!

Monday we mainly just relied on our feet for Steve’s whirlwind tour of Istanbul: the Basilica Cistern, the Blue Mosque, Musa’s rug studio, lunch at the Sefa (on Musa), the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, the Rustem Pasa Mosque (lovely tiles!), and the Sulimaniye Mosque overlooking the entire city.


We were BUSHED by the time we found our way (on foot) back to the hotel to pick up our packs for the trek home.

The 3-hour, 5-transport trek home:
Tram to Karakoy: 20 minutes (10 minute wait)
Ferry to Hydarpasa: 20 minutes (10 minute wait)
Train to Pendik: 40 minutes (15 minute wait)
Mini-bus to Koc School gate: 40 minutes (20 minute wait)
Walk to my lojman: 10 minutes.
That means we left the Side Hotel at 5:20 and arrived at my lojman (to a very happy LIbby) at 8:30. Three hours. Steve was astounded, and a good sport the whole while.


So here’s how the cost stacks up:

Tram to Karakoy: 1.5 Turkish Lira
Ferry to Kadikoy: 1.5 Turkish Lira
Train to Pendik: 1.5 Turkish Lira

Walking Istanbul with my brother: Priceless.

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A Weekend in Istanbul


People are what keeps our world interesting, don’t you think? I continue to be
amazed at the variety of people I run across in this very different world of
Istanbul, where security guards and service bus drivers are an integral part of
our lives. I enjoy getting out into greater Istanbul, away from
the quiet, predictable life on campus.

After school last Friday I took a staff service bus to a doctor’s appointment
near Bagdat Street, and from there I headed off with my camera. I met a
balloon man in Goztepe Park, who kindly posed for a picture. Of course, he
didn’t really smile until AFTER the photo—I think a lot of the older men here
see photography as a formal portrait thing, which is very sweet.

The next person who caught my camera lens was a flower seller, one of many
along Bagdat Street. Instead of using florists, people pick up their household
bouquets from flower stands along the sidewalk. This flower seller was a
lovely young woman; usually they’re older. Maybe she was sitting in for her
mother or something.

In the next block I was surprised to find a tired old black lab asleep on the sidewalk with
glasses perched on his nose. It was too cute. He was advertising for his
cheerful master, who sat beside a table strewn with sunglasses and reading
glasses. We exchanged pleasantries, I resisted the temptation to purchase yet
another pair of reading glasses, and I continued on my way.

Down the block I found an even more creative advertising ploy: a hairless
woman sitting in a wheelchair with a knee brace, a wrist brace, a neck brace,
and various other therapeutic devices. Poor thing didn’t have much else on.
Fortunately she was a mannequin, cleverly posted outside a drug supply store.
Hmmm… (note the flowers out already—eat your hearts out, Minnesotans!)

I met my friend Sarah for dinner, and she came back to campus with me for our Saturday adventure,
which brought quite a different kind of people. Our Angelic
Ileyn had arranged a service bus to the Halk Art copper factory on the far
side of Istanbul. You have to understand that the Koc School sits on the far
eastern edge of Istanbul, 30K from Sultanahmet. Well, the copper factory is on
the far western edge of the city, probably equally far on the other side. It took us
two hours to get there (Istanbul traffic).

Our first stop was downstairs, where the air reverberated with pounding,
drumming, and thrumming—the sounds of copper craft. It took some time to
adjust to the racket, then we fanned out with our cameras, each eager to capture
the feel of the copper works. Each man sat in a chair pounding a different
type of copper pot, tray, or pan.

One sat between tall stacks of oval
cylinders of copper, tamping each rim even along the circular edge, preparing
it, no doubt, for a bottom. Surrounded by piles, stacks, and bins of copper
materials, these men could take a flat sheet of copper and make it into a work
of art in minutes. Pretty amazing, if you ask me.

We went upstairs and chose our wares—items that normally sell for two or three
times as much in the States. I bought a few frying pans, a colander, a
sunburst for my door, and a few other little things. We had taken a tour bus
with storage beneath, a lucky thing, since three people bought huge
mirrors, and five others emerged with huge copper tray tables. Tracy bought
a wooden trunk! Go figure! (The shop also has an upper floor of antiques.)

It was a people weekend, all right. We finished it off with a trip back into
the city to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at a Irish Pub. The ride there was an
adventure in itself. We took a dolmus (a van-like taxi) from Bostanci for what
is usually a half-hour ride to Taksim. Unfortunately, the Friday night traffic
was horrendous. Our driver (clearly an aficionado of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride)
tore through the back roads of Istanbul at a deadly pace. We eight passengers
swayed and bounced in the back, clinging to handholds and praying for
deliverance. I never had any idea where we were, though we did dart across
main streets occasionally along our route. An hour later we were
deposited at Taksim, a little rattled, but injury-free. (We heard later
that the normal route would have taken two hours.) We were greatly relieved
to finally mount the steps to the Cadde I Kebir pub, where we drowned our
anxieties in green beer and rubbed elbows with international folks like ourselves.

Did I say it’s all about PEOPLE? (Well, maybe people and beer.)

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Bolu and Istaklal

I had a lovely weekend in Bolu. I experienced my first long-distance bus ride getting there on Friday, and believe it or not, the Turkish equivalent of a Greyhound bus has an attendant (or two) who serves tea, coffee, snacks, and water–free of charge. That’s better service than we get from the airlines in the States!
We stayed at the Yurdaer Hotel, which impressed us with an amazing art collection, all originals by the hotel’s owner, Yurdaer Kalayci, who keeps his easel set up in the hotel lobby. (Check out his art online–it’s fascinating).

I made the trip with another teacher, Sibel Butterworth, to present English teaching ideas to 15 elementary and middle school English teachers. The Bolu teachers were enthusiastic about the teaching strategies we shared with them, some fun classrom activities to enhance their grammar-focused state curriculum. We shared ideas for speaking, listening, reading, and writing that they can adapt to their classrooms.

We learned, too, that they have no supply budgets for English materials, so I plan to send them English picture books to use for reading and writing activities. Our teachers reported having 25 to 35 students per classroom, while teachers in Ankara have classes of 60 students. Can you imagine? We in America (and at the Koc School) have it good!
After the presentation, our hosts, principal Ahmet Kyrdemir and English teacher Fatih Ozcan drove us to a picturesque mountain lake perched high above Bolu before we caught our bus home.

p1010053.JPGBolu is a city of 800,000 situated in the Mountains, a major potato-producing area known for its downhill skiing. None of the teachers in our seminar were skiers , though—teachers in Turkey are poorly paid. We enjoyed our lazy trek around the lake, reveling in the brilliant late-afternoon sunshine along with many Turkish families, friends, and couples (Muslims all) strolling, grilling, picknicking, and playing soccer around the lake. People are the same everywhere!
On Sunday I took the service bus into Istanbul

After a visit to the Pera Art Museum, my friend Cristi and I were walking up Istaklal (in the city) when we heard a demonstration ahead—something we’ve been warned to avoid. We backtracked and walked around the area , discovering a charming pickle shop en route.

the-pickle-dude.jpgIn spite of our fascinating detour, we ended up in the middle of it anyway, since it had moved up the street. It was a peaceful but noisy demonstration by the CHP, the left-wing People’s Republican Party. There’s a movement in this country to promote religious (Isamic) governance rather than the current secular system, and it’s disturbing to many who believe in Ataturk’s dream (including the CHP and me). Turkey’s secular democracy holds a strong position as a bridge between the Western and Arab worlds, and many Turkish citizens fear its secularism may be at risk. In May the parliament will select a new president, and a likely candidate is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the present prime minister. He’s a religious conservative whose appointment as president would assure a move toward Islamic politicalism. Hence, a demonstration.

I hope the parliament hears these voices, as it seems giving more power to the religious right would be problematic. Turkey had a painful coup in 1980, and the military had to intervene. At the inception of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk set up the military as a separate entity to assure the secularism of the government, and if secularism is at risk, the military will intervene once again.
I pray that it’s not necessary.

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Istanbul Meanderings

Life is settling down a bit, though I just made my sixth trek to Termal, my favorite little hot springs community on the other side of the Sea of Marmara. We were a small group, but we had a great time shopping, scrubbing, soaking, swimming, eating, drinking, laughing, and hiking, even in a light rain. A good time was had by all.

I’ve decided to share some smaller things from my life here–things I never think to write, things that tickle my fancy or get my goat.

Here goes…

Our non-winter well behind us, we already have about twenty types of wildflowers on campus, and I have no wildflower book to help identify them. Every daytime walk is an adventure if you keep your eyes on the ground–some of these flowers are wee things. The roses have bloomed here all winter.


We took a trip to a new nearby sports and fitness facility last week, where they plied us with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Unfortunately, their fees were too steep. I was a little suspicious when I saw that they sell every brand of cigarettes at the front desk. Welcome to Turkey. (Did I complain about the cocktails?)

We have a new “No teacher left behind” policy with our service busses, which is a bit confusing, since the mysterious left-behind person hadn’t signed up to ride the bus in the first place. Anyway, it means the bus schedules will be STRICTLY adhered to in case some errant teacher didn’t sign up but wants to partake. Departure times will no longer be observed Turkish fashion (when it seems reasonable), but more in the German mode (ON THE DOT!) Whatever!


The sun is up for my morning walk with Libby and Leah–and Toby, lately. It’s a joy to watch the sky painted brilliant shades of rose to peach. Spring is on its way! We’ll lose a bit of light when daylight savings time comes, but I’m hoping my days of departing in darkness are behind me. Libby agrees.

My little twin buddies, Katrina and Carmen, helped me walk the doggie-dogs lastThursday after school, and we lost one. Two, actually: first a dog, then an almost-five-year-old. I’m some babysitter, eh? Katrina can’t resist unhooking the leash, and little did she know that Toby would hotfoot it home. Oops! I was buying myself a beer to sip on while the girls played with the beasties, when I spotted Toby running by dragging his leash, followed by a panicked Katrina. I ran around the building but couldn’t find either of them. Double oops. It all worked out though; Serge and Sue (Mom and Dad) had heard the ruckus and were most understanding. They joined me as I finished that beer.

Another campus couple, David and Elizabeth, added a fourth member to their family last week: Laura Terassa Deniz Cansu Lemoigne. All I can say is, someone is going to be sorry when she has to write out her name for kindergarten! Of course, chances are she’ll be a genius.

When I go to the markets in Turkey, I’m amazed at how eager people are to have their pictures taken. I used to always ask, but I’ve learned that they don’t mind. I wish my camera were quicker, but it’s delightful to have people clambering to be included in the photo. Even the shyest women beam at my lens with toothless grins. If they seem uncertain, I just say, “Iyi gunler” (Good day), and they smile. Turks are always tickled to hear foreigners attempt their language.


Though the Turkish people are easily the kindest in the world, their personalities change dramatically when they’re on the highway or standing in line (and I use the terms “standing” and “line” loosely) for a ferry or bus. They are masters at “butting”, both figuratively and literally. Their generosity disappears in any race for entry or exit. Sometimes I miss “Minnesota Nice”.

My seniors will be done with school on April 6th. Unbelievable. They get the last two months off school to study for their big college entrance exam, the OSS. Turkey has a LOT of young people and not enough slots in their universities, so only about 15 percent of them will qualify. It’s a big deal here, the highest of high stakes exams. Most seniors have OSS workbooks in their laps during class, and it drives us all nuts. I love my seniors, and I’m sorry to see them so stressed. It’s absolute cruelty to give them homework, but sometimes we have to.


The good news about that is that I’ll only have to teach 14 periods a week for the last two months (that’s down from 20). My friend David will only have 7 periods–poor guy! He’ll be so BORED! 🙂

I’m thinking about retirement a lot these days–freedom is only months away. I can’t believe I’m that old, though I’m always reminded when I look in the mirror. Hi, Mom.
So…that’s my weekly meander. Have a good one!

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