A blooming FULL week in Istanbul

Oh, my goodness! Istanbul has burst into bloom, and my life is spiraling out of control. So what else is new?

A week ago I was invited to give a book talk on my Istanbul guide at Molly’s Cafe (near the Galata Tower). It was a small but warm group, and they were more than enthused about the unique elements of Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter~Backstreet Walking Tours. I was also fortunate to reconnect with a former acquaintance, Bahadir, who spent a year as the AFS son of my friends Layne and Rolf.

Molly's cafe-book talk

The gang at Molly’s Cafe

The next day I met my buddy David at Emirgan Park to see the tulips in their splendiferous glory. My favorite display was a stream of hyacinths, complete with “swimming” ducks and a walking bridge. Very sweet. We also treated ourselves to a sumptuous breakfast buffet in the courtyard of one of the park villas. Yum.

Hyacinth River-Emirgan 2010

Hyacinth “stream” at Emirgan Park

tulips-Emirgan 2010and the plain old tulips as well–all stunning!

Back at school, the wisteria are in bloom on Gould Hall, and Juliet was practicing for the upcoming outdoor Shakespeare Festival—calling to Romeo (waiting on the stairway below) from her perfume-laden balcony.

Juliet on the Wisteria balcony

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”

horn blossom tree

Another campus “bloomer”-Paulownia tomentosa (pre-leaf)

On Wednesday evening I attended a classical concert at Bosphorus University. Robert College teachers and students can attend for free, a golden opportunity. We were treated to piano pieces by Chopin, Schubert, Schumann, Lizt, and Rachmaninoff. As I listened from my balcony seat, I was (as always) amazed at the stunning architecture of Albert Long Hall, built in 1890 from stone quarried right there on what was then the Robert College Campus. The auditorium, originally used as the school chapel, still has the feel of a church sanctuary, complete with wooden seats. (I used my pashmina to cushion the “ride”.)

Albert Hall roof

The Albert Long Hall ceiling

Albert Hall pianist-2

A pianist’s concentrated effort reflected in his piano’s lid.

My daily walks with Libby these past weeks have been punctuated by the stunning Judas trees that thrive along the Bosphorus. The branches explode in brilliant pink-to-magenta blossoms before the tree shows its first leaves, and the effect is amazing. I shot a photo of Libby against a blanket of shed petals—a perfect match for her pink tongue.

Judas tree

The stunning Judas tree…

Libby and petals

Libby in the tree’s discarded petals

Thursday evening I met friends for an Arnavutköy fish dinner, then we went to the Kuzgun Bar to listen to fellow English teacher Michael Hayes play with his jazz/rock group. Such larks!

Michael Hayes bass

Mr. Hayes on bass–photo by Erdem

Friday was a national holiday, Children’s Day. Imagine that in American, huh? We got the day off school, so on this long weekend I joined my friend Sandra at her new apartment on Burgazada, one of the Princes Islands. The ferry over there (one hour) was packed to the gills with spring revelers—I stood the whole way, but didn’t mind. I love the ferries.

Children's Day at the pier

Special children’s visitors at the ferry pier

crowded Adalar Ferry

Standing room only on the ferry to the Princes Islands

We couldn’t have imagined more perfect weather for our lazy few days together. Sandra’s friends joined us for afternoon lemonades, then we stopped at her friend’s house for cappuccino and wine. After that we hiked down for a delicious dinner of baked poached fish down at their favorite seaside restaurant. YUM! Too much wine, but heck. You only live once. (AND-no one drove.)

Sandra's view from BurgazadaSandra’s balcony view—not too bad.

gulls on BurgazRelaxed gulls considering a flight to the crowded mainland–NOT!

The Princes Islands are named for the princes and other royalty who were exiled there during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires—just keeping them out of the way rather than killing them, I guess. The last prisoners were sentenced to death there after the 1960 military coup. The four largest (and best) islands are vacation havens for Turks, especially during the hot Istanbul summers. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on the islands, so transportation is via fayton (phaeton—horse carriage), bicycle, or foot. Since I’m allergic to horses and have no bike, it was a weekend of foot transport. A pied, so to speak. Trust me, it was lovely.

Horse carts on BurgazadaBurgazada local transport—the Fayton

Horse carts on Burgazada-3The taksi stand down on the harbor…

Phaeton fares…and the standard fares (1.5 TL = $1)

I caught a fast ferry back to the European side on Saturday evening. It took me 30 minutes to travel 12 miles to Kabataş by ferry (24 mph—with a stop), and 75 minutes to travel four miles by bus (3.2 mph). Welcome to Istanbul traffic. No WONDER we prefer the ferries!

Burgazada Church

Farewell, peaceful Burgazada!

Sunday Bahadir and his sister Gülay drove over to Arnavutköy to pick me up for breakfast. We headed up the Bosphorus and when the traffic became unbearable, we turned up the steep hill above Rumile Castle. We breakfasted at the Bosphorus University Alumni Club, basking in the sun as we marveled at the view of the castle and the Bosphorus below. Oh, my goodness! A good time was had by all.

Gülay, Bahadir, and me

A cup of Turkish coffee to settle our meal (Gülay, Bahadir, and me)

Ann Marie & Rumile

The Rumile Castle, the Judas trees, the Bosphorus, and me.

I’m mighty thankful for my wonderful Istanbullu friends, for a stunning springtime, and for the endless supply of brilliant blossoms. Did I already say “Oh, my goodness”?

Oh, my goodness!

Showing off Turkey

Oh, what to share with my visiting friends? Especially my lifelong canoe buddies—after 25 years of grueling (and fun) canoe trips, what would I most love to have them sample in Istanbul? Well…

They’d have to try a carpet shop, and then there’s the Grand Bazaar, and of course a Bosphorus tour. Can’t forget the Blue Mosque… Oh! The food! Which dishes will best represent the delectable Turkish cuisine? And what else might wow them? Cappadocia! Yes!

Flights arrived on time, and our two taxis (3 ladies each) caravanned to their 2-bedroom Sultanahmet apartment (thanks to Musa Başaran). First stop: The Grand Bazaar, with a quick stop at a carpet dealer’s to finalize arrangements for an upcoming rug show. Oops! Looks like we got hooked into a full-fledged complimentary demonstration. Interesting to all, including two rounds of tea. No sales, though. My friends were hesitant to make decisions on jet-lagged brains. Wise move.

A fascinating rug show at Turksan

Our first meal was a traditional Turkish one at the Doy Doy; mercimek soup, meze plates, and a shared mixed grill left us all grinning (and full). Karen’s constant YUM’s assured me that food would be a highlight of everyone’s week.

Doy Doy break maker

The Doy Doy bread baker

The next morning dawned drizzly, so we scrapped our outdoor touring plans and headed for the Grand Bazaar, this time, without detours. After fighting with a few cash machines, I showed them some of the hans, and we just wandered around and waited for each other to make purchases. There’s something for everyone in the Grand Bazaar—heck, with 4000 stores, there should be!

Jewelry seller 3

Jewelry at the Grand Bazaar

After lunch we trekked to Arnavutköy for a visit to my little apartment, a tour of Robert College, and a night of jazz on the Bosphorus (my second round of Balık Ekmek Caz). The music was fabulous, and the Ladytrippers (yes, our group even has a name) were more than impressed with the evening-lit Bosphorus. No surprise. It’s always stunning.

Day two we headed to the Taş Han and Laleli Mosque. The focus was actually the leather bazaar under the mosque, where everyone wanted to try on pieced leather jackets like one I’d bought years ago. The shopowner was pleased to unload four jackets on our little group, though not quite as pleased as the buyers.

The famous leather-leaf jackets a la Ladytrippers

The Taş Han was a hit, too. It’s the most meticulously renovated han in Istanbul.

spice bazaar thoughtful woman

Oh–we visited the Spice Bazaar as well

Unfortunately, our trekking was a bit limited by infuriating infirmities, which brought back memories of a long-past canoe trip (20 years ago?). We were camped on Peter Lake one hot July afternoon, lounging on massive shoreline boulders as we dangled our feet in the water and chatted. It was just too dang hot to paddle that day. We joked about future canoe trips—being airlifted in to the Boundary Waters with our walkers and wobbling around an island campsite. Sadly, we’re getting there. Our ages now range from 58 to 69, and some of us are showing a little wear. My activity was limited by a recent back surgery, Linda was still recovering from a serious head injury (often dizzy, especially after tram rides), and Gail’s bum knee got so bad she had to buy a cane. What a crew! Those walkers might be in the nearer future than we thought! Oh, well. We did great in spite of our limitations—smiling all the way.

Goreme at nightA late-night arrival to our hotel in Göreme

Thursday night we boarded a plane for Cappadocia—what trusting friends I have! Libby was more than pleased to join us, riding in her rolling case like a perfect little princess. The only thing she hates is the security check. I have to drag her through the x-ray machine. No dummy, she. Most of the security guards make a big fuss over her, though one in Kayseri jumped nearly out of her skin when she spotted my dog.

Gail and JoAnn breakfast at Kelebek

JoAnn and Gail enjoy breakfast on the Kelebek terrace.

Cappadocia was a hit with everyone. The Kelebek Hotel is incredibly charming, and the first night we were invited by Mehmet Bey for dinner and wine at Sultan’s Carpets. Dinner was a delicious guveç, and carpets were purchased by all. Ali said he made the guveç himself; handsome young fellow and a master chef to boot!


Şemse was a charming salesman…

Susan contemplates rug purchase…and we all thought long and hard…

purchasing a rug

…and finally made the plunge (even me).

The next day we did a bus tour, including a hike through the stunning terrain of the Rose Valley, a visit to a ceramics workshop, a walk through Paşabahçe’s amazing fairy chimneys, a traditional lunch, and a tour of the underground city. Whew! A VERY full day.

Karen, Susan hike

Ah, the Rose Valley!–Karen and Susan

plate painting

Fine detail painting at the ceramics workshop.

camelsThe camels at Paşabağları

underground cityThe amazing underground city.

We finished our tour with a stop at Kocabağ winery, then dragged ourselves home. Linda and I were excited to be moving to another room (our first one was charming but tiny). Little did we know we’d be navigating ten knee-high stairs to a little aerie (remember Linda’s dizziness?). Our antique door locked with a wooden bolt and padlock, and the entryway was also our bathroom! Go figure. Nonetheless, it had charm—and a little more space than our first room. Once we got up there, that is.

Linda room stepsLinda climbs the stairs to our new room…

bath entry

Get a load of that old door–and the bathroom entryway!

Libby on bedBut what a sweet room! Libby loved all the pillows.

Our last day was rainy again, and we explored the town of Göreme, including a weaving workshop and carpet store now run by the government. It was fascinating. It was a low-key day, and I think we all finally relaxed.

JoAnn, Linda, and GailTrekking down the hill on our last day in Göreme

Kelebek cleanersA fond farewell to our lovely room cleaners, and little Özge (with Libby)

Then—back to Istanbul, work, and evenings out together before everyone left on Wednesday. I enjoyed sharing Turkey with some of my best buddies, but even more, I loved the time with my bosom buddies. Though only a few of us still have the energy to canoe, the camaraderie endures. We’ve decided to make a slight change: now the Ladytrippers’ annual trek will be to a hotel rather than a campsite.

You go, girls!

Balık Ekmek Caz

How can time fly so quickly? It seems just minutes ago that I sat down to write this blog, and WHOOPS!!! It’s a week later. I want to share, though, about Balık Ekmek Caz. In case you don’t speak Turkish, it means Fish Bread Jazz. The cool thing about it, though, is that it happens on a party-sized ferryboat and includes an evening Bosphorus cruise. Not only that, but the jazz was top-notch!


A few weeks ago my friends Amy and Mustafa joined me for a Saturday evening cruise on the Bosphorus Princess, not quite sure what to expect. We thought we might get a full fish dinner (oh, optimism!), and we knew the wine and beer were limitsiz (unlimited), but we had no idea that the jazz trio would be phenomenally good.

Balik Ekmek Caz-Mustafa, Amy, and me

Mustafa, Amy and me—on the Bosphorus Princess

Kent Mete played the piyano (you can figure THAT out in English), Ozan Musluoğlu played the bas, and Derin Bayhan played the davul (drums—I figured you wouldn’t know that one).

Balik Ekmek Caz-Kent Mete, piano

Kent Mete, piyano

Balik Ekmek Caz-Ozan Musluoğlu, bass

Ozan Musluoğlu, bass

Balik Ekmek Caz-Derin Bayhan, drums

Derin Bayhan, davul

They played a number of classic jazz pieces, and while we sipped wine and chatted, a chef on the top deck was grilling generous fillets of local fish. We reveled at the stunning views of well-lit mansions and palaces along the shoreline and finally indulged in a mouth-watering hoagie-sized balık ekmek. By the time the ferry turned around above the upper bridge, we were out on the floor, dancing our socks off.

Balik Ekmek Caz-Kent Mete Trio, dancers

Dancin’ to the Kent Mete Trio

Kent Mete astounded us—his entire heart and soul were poured out through that keyboard. It was all he could do to stay on his bench as he played. The bass player and drummer were no slouches, either, let me tell you.

Balik Ekmek Caz-Çiran Palas

The Çırağan Palace as the sun set

Needless to say, it was a great evening. I love live music, particularly jazz and blues. It’s a blast to dance, and I’d never turn away food or wine. And the VIEWS…  What more could a person ask?

Balik Ekmek Caz-Rumile HisariRumile Hısarı—a medeival fortress

I hope this venue continues—it’s scheduled for every Wednesday and Saturday night through the end of April, and if they know what they’re doing, they’ll keep it up. They’ve got a great gig going here. All fingers crossed for a full spring and summer of jazz on the Bosphorus!

Balik Ekmek CazThe Kent Mete Trio

The Call to Prayer

What most caught my eye on my first ride through Istanbul was its many hills and many mosques. Every neighborhood had a dome, each punctuated by at least one minaret spiking toward heaven.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet is the only one with six minarets (one is hidden).

We could barely hear the call to prayer back then at the Koç School, though as the city encroached on that easternmost “suburb,” more mosques were built and the call to prayer became a part of our soundscape (along with jets flying over). Here in Arnavutköy I wake to the ezan (call to prayer) before sunrise, though I usually go back to sleep. I love hearing it repeat throughout the day.

Sokullu dome

Sokullu Paşa Mosque dome, Sultanahmet

There are six different times that the muezzin (crier) sings the call to prayer through a loudspeaker in the minaret. When I first came here, I thought they must be recorded and played electronically, but I was wrong. Each mosque’s muezzin is trained to fulfill his duty of singing phrases from the Koran to call Muslims to leave their daily tasks, face toward Mecca, and worship Allah in prayer.

Sokullu Paşa Mosque-night

Sokullu Paşa Mosque at night

The ezan is chanted at different times each day, depending on sunrise, sunset, longitude, and latitude. The exact same verses and music are repeated from every mosque in the city at the same time. It’s amazing when you’re in an area with many mosques, as they’re a bit out of step, so it sounds almost like echoes. From my apartment I can hear a few faint ezans from across the Bosphorus at the same time as the one from the Arnavutköy Mosque, loud and clear.

Laleli Mosque praying

Men praying in the Laleli Mosque (The Tulip Mosque)

Laleli Mosque womenA separate space for women to pray at the back of the mosque.

These were the times for the call to prayer in Istanbul when I wrote this (March 30, 2010):

Imsak (“abstinence”) 5:17 am: before dawn, to awaken the faithful for prayer

Günes (“sun”) 6:51 am: Sunrise

Ögle (“noon”) 1:09 pm: Midday, when the sun passes the zenith

Ikindi (“afternoon”) 4:42 pm: Afternoon, when the shadows cast by objects are equal to their height

Akşam (“evening”) 7:27 pm: Sunset, when the sun has disappeared below the horizon; beginning of a new day in the Islamic calendar

Yatsi (“bedtime” or “two hours after sunset”) 8:56 pm: When the last light of day has disappeared

Laleli Mosque fountain

The Laleli Mosque ablutions fountain

Laleli Mosque spigot

A spigot for ablutions

A Muslim is expected to pray five times each day to Allah (God—the same one worshipped by Christians and Jews, by the way), so I guess they throw in that sixth ezan for good measure. Maybe it accommodates early risers versus the night owls. I really don’t know. Only a minority of Turks pray five times a day; this kind of devotion is more common in Eastern Turkey and among recent immigrants to the city. In Istanbul habits range from no prayer to full compliance.

Blue Mosque domes

Cascading domes inside the Blue Mosque

Friday is the Islamic holy day, so that’s when many visit the mosque to pray. People first perform ablutions, washing their feet, hands, and head at a fountain in the mosque’s courtyard.  The main prayers are held at Oğle (noon), so mosques are the most likely to be busy then. The imam, the prayer service leader, will often give a sermon as well.

I find the call to prayer captivating—it’s one of the things I miss when I leave Turkey, and I can’t help but be moved by it when I’m here. I know some people find it irritating. I have to admit, if you’re near a mosque during the ezan, there’s often no point in trying to talk over it. People manage.

Laleli Mosque shoes

Shoes remain outside when you enter a mosque.

Four years ago my friends Dee, Terri, and I stayed in a hotel in Trabzon (NE Turkey on the Black Sea) during Ramazan. We were relaxing with an evening glass of wine when the call to prayer blasted us from a loudspeaker mounted directly outside the window. We clapped our hands over our ears, it was so loud. Since it was the final weekend of Ramazan, it went on and on and on and on. We heaved a sigh of relief when the singing finally stopped—but there was more! An endless sermon  finally drove us from our room. Oh, my goodness! No WONDER that hotel was such a bargain!

Uzungöl Mosque

Uzungöl Mosque, near Trabzon (not the one by our hotel)

As I see rabid reactions to Islam in the United States (and in other Western nations), I can’t help but feel frustrated. I know Turkey is a secular country, probably the most liberal of the Muslim countries, yet I am dumbfounded at the prejudice that has arisen from a knee-jerk reaction to Islamic extremists. The Islamic faith is a peaceful faith, one that combines a worship of God with service to others. Makes sense to me.

Beyazit Mosque

Beyazit Mosque courtyard

Burak Sansal is a tour guide who has established an excellent tourism site called “All About Turkey”. He describes the Muslim faith in these words:

“Muhammed was born in Mecca in about 570 AD. He preached that there is only one God and that he, Muhammed, was God’s messenger. Those that accept him as such are called Muslims, which means ‘one who submits to God’. The Koran  (Kuran, Qur’an) is the Islamic Bible, believed to be an exact record of the words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammed. Its basic theme is the relationship between God and his creations, yet at the same time it provides guidelines for a just society, proper human conduct, and an equitable economic system.”1

Now, I wonder, who can find fault with that?


The Bebek Mosque—where I recorded this call to prayer

Here is a recording I made of the call to prayer in Bebek while Libby and I were enjoying the park. Each separate phrase usually has a long pause before the next one, but I’ve edited them out to shorten it. The call to prayer usually lasts around four or five minutes, but this recording is only about a minute. You can still hear the voices and activity in the park. Life goes on, doesn’t it?

Bebek Mosque Call to prayer

tulip tree blossom

Blossoms from a “tulip tree” near the mosque in Bebek Park

So—there you have it, The Call to Prayer in Istanbul.

A  bit of the Turkish soundscape.

1 Sansal, Burak. “Islam in Turkey.” All About Turkey. Burak Sansal Tourism, 2010. Web. 1 Apr 2010. <http://www.allaboutturkey.com/islam.htm>.