Oh, the Turkish Hamam!

On my recent trip to Turkey I was amazed to find Turkish words and verb tenses bubbling up from the nether reaches of my brain. Turkish is a difficult language, but it makes up for that by being a kind one. Some of its daily niceties warm my heart:

When you see someone working, you say Kolay gelsin.” as you pass. May it come easy to you.” I know of no similar sentiment in English,

Or how about when the young woman you met recently is sick to her stomach? The Turkish kindness for difficult situations is Geçmiş Olsun.” “May you leave it behind you.” Isnt that sweet?

When someone sets a meal before you, Turks say Afiyet Olsun.” “May this nourish you.” Then you respond with Elinez Sağlic.” “Health to your hands.”

The list goes on, but enough of that. I want to explain Turkish baths.

Our second city on this tour was the mountaintop village of Şirince.

The view overlooking Şirince from our cottage.

When I visited fifteen years ago, typical village transport was donkeys, but many of the narrow streets have been upgraded from various-sized rocks to large, flat ones for cars. Disappointing, but what can you do? Progress. Most of the streets are barely wide enough for a small car. Thankfully, the little shops have retained their small-village charm, from fruit wine vendors to jewelry and craft stores. On every street we encountered women in şhalvar (skirt-like pantaloons) selling herbs, baked goods, and crafts.

Scott and Jerry avoid shopping as Marnie negotiates with a local.

Our hotel, the Nişanyan, was perched at the top of the village, something of a botanical garden dotted with cottages and ancient Ottoman houses. We stayed in a 500-year-old whitewashed stone cottage with foot-thick walls. It had a sitting room that featured a low cushioned bench festooned with colorful embroidered pillows, a carved stone fireplace, and a single platform bed. Both that and our bedroom/sitting room had small cupboard niches with carved wooden doors, Turkish carpets, and charming wall decorations.

A chair in our bedroom, just a hint of the charm of our 500-year-old  Nişanyan cottage.

Our bathroom was a traditional hamam (Turkish bath)—a wonder. It was a large marble room with a domed ceiling emitting light through round glass “eyes.” Two windows were set into the rounded back wall. A low marble basin with a faucet sat on the far end, beside it a low stool with a metal bowl for scooping water from the basin. Thats how hamams are everywhere—you sit on a stool or bench, then repeatedly scoop hot water and pour it over yourself. A drain across the entire floor transports it to the sewer. 

Our cottage had a complete little private hamam in the bathroom.


This is the resort’s tiny hamam available to all the renters.

We visited a community hamam in Ürgüp, Cappadocia. We were first ushered into locker rooms to undress and don slippers and peştemal (PESH-ta-mal), plaid cotton towels. Women wore two (one on top and one on the bottom), while the men only got one. The six of us were then ushered into a steam room with marble benches and a marble sink. We took turns pouring hot water over each other, soaking ourselves through.

Three of us steaming as the others poured water over each other.

Twenty minutes later the masseuses (women draped in peştemal) brought us out into the main part of the hamam, where a massive heated marble slab dominated the room.

There was much discussion over who would be on the heated slab and who would get a private room.

There were side rooms, too, each with its own high marble bench (heated) and marble sinks. My masseuse poured warm water over me, then scrubbed every inch of skin with a textured mitten-like scrubber. It felt a little like sandpaper, only nicer. After that, more hot water and a seaweed facial mask.

Even the men got a seaweed mask. Go, Tony!


Jerry scored a private room, as did I.

Then the soap suds. Oh, the soap suds. She took a long, net bag and soaked it in a tub of soapy water. Then she swung it back and forth a few times before squeezing suds over me, coating my body with what felt like a warm blanket. She repeated this a few more times until I was completely covered.

Link to a video of the soapsuds technique–amazing!

Rather than oil, the suds from olive oil soap provide a slippery surface for massage. And what a massage it was! By the time she’d finished, I was a noodle. She helped me sit up and poured bowl after bowl of hot water over me. 

The Turkish Hamam is a unique, relaxing experience. Once dried and dressed, we were offered tea or water (Turks frown on drinking cold water, but we insisted) as we relaxed on cushions in an outer room. Wet noodles all.

Back to Istanbul—AGAIN!

As my friends back home struggled with yet another snowstorm, I sat in the Istanbul airport reminiscing about our last three (sunny) days in the city. Though I lived here for years and know the city well, each day brought new experiences, new history, new insights.

I LOVE Istanbul!

It was Ramadan, so a good percentage of the population fast from sunrise to sunset. We’d arranged to enjoy an iftar  (breaking of the fast) dinner on our first night, so we strolled down to the Matbah restaurant eager to see what lay ahead. Our table for six was set with mouth-watering mezes (appetizers), a traditional fruit juice, and water. We sat salivating over a feast of eggplant salad, humus, tapenade, pickled beets, vegetables, fresh, crusty bread, and other delicacies as we waited for the sunset call to prayer.At the first strains from nearby minarets, we loaded our plates with mezes as waiters swept in with steaming bowls of soup. Food never tasted so good.

Travel companions, Peggy, Scott, Marnie, Tony, and Jerry. I’m taking the picture.

We visited the usual Istanbul sites—the Hippodrome (from Roman times), the Blue Mosque (closed for renovation), Topkapi Palace, and the Hagia Sophia, which has gone from a Christian Church (532-1453) to a mosque (1453-1931) to a museum (1931-2020) and now, sadly, back to a mosque.

The Hagia Sophia, now lit and used as a mosque.
looking up through the lights at the stunning dome of the Hagia Sophia

We also had some surprises. As we strolled along the imposing Byzantine walls that encircle the old city, we encountered men gingerly toting boxes, bags, and cages. What? Our guide Elif explained that many Turkish men are passionate about pigeons, and the Sunday Pigeon Market was up the hill. Well, why not? She paid our admission (about 50¢) to a fenced-in market, a menagerie of pigeons and purchasers.

The AMAZING Sunday pigeon market

Though we were the only women among scores of men, they hardly noticed us as they inspected birds, prodding and turning them as they decided whether they were worth the price ($5 to $100). It was fascinating.

A soccer game was in progress between the pigeon market and the imposing city wall. Few paid attention, though. They were all about pigeons.

The pigeon market by a soccer field and beyond that, the ancient city walls. 

VIDEO: I caught a few minutes of exercise before we visited the Tekfur palace. Narration by our wonderful guide, Elif.

Our next stop was the newly-restored Tekfur Palace, a Byzantine palace where artists once created colorful ceramic tiles for the Ottomans through the Renaissance and beyond.

Who knew? I’d never even heard of it. From the ramparts we saw the city wall marching down to the Marmara Sea.

Our big treat on the third day was a cooking class at Cooking Alaturka. We were welcomed by a Sicilian chef, Roco, who offered us drinks and conversation before explaining our menu—five mezes (appetizers) and what they called the most lethal of Turkish desserts, künefe. I couldn’t have been happier, as mezes are my favorite part of every Turkish meal.

Peggy and Scott separate grape leaves for sarma.


Marnie and Tony contemplate the task of peeling chickpeas for humus.

Roco’s assistant chef Nazlı handed out aprons and had us wash our hands before she led us through the intricacies of making sarma (grape leaves wrapped tightly around a mixture of rice, currants, and spices).

Nazli instructs Marnie as she prepares filling for the sarma (stuffed grape leaves).

We also prepared grilled eggplant salad (my long-time favorite), spiced lentil “meatballs,” Circassian chicken, and baked hummus. The künefe was a cheesy, creamy, buttery dessert that crunched with every bite. It’s shredded pasta (a little like shredded wheat, only finer and white), a quarter pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a quarter pound of string cheese, lemon and water. Jerry said it was delicious. I had to pass on that because of a milk allergy. They baked stuffed figs for me, so I did get some dessert.

Voila! Our mezes on display with Roco and Nazli at the back of the kitchen.

Let me tell you, my greatest challenge was wrapping softened grape leaves around a tiny dab of spiced rice.

Scott, Peggy, Jerry, and Tony takle the finite task of rolling the sarma.

The next worst was peeling hot eggplant straight off the grill. Wait—maybe it was peeling a big bowl of cooked chickpeas. Well, whatever was worst, it was well worth the effort. The payoff for all our work was a fabulous meal—with wine. YUM!!! 

Burgazada: a sleepy island get-away

After a whirlwind tour of Turkey, I was able to sleep in on Thursday morning. My friend Jini and I bumped our heavy suitcases down the spiral staircase of Istanbul’s sweet Kybele Otel, dragged them to the tram stop, and headed to the Eminönü pier to find the station for our one-hour ferry to the Princes Islands—Adalar.Ada” is Turkish for island, and -lar is the plural form. (Just sayin’.)

Oh, how I love the Istanbul ferries!

My friends Mark and Jolee Zola generously offered their apartment to us for the week, and I’d texted their friend Hamit about our arrival. No response. My fingers were crossed that he’d be there to meet us, since I had only sketchy directions to the apartment—and no key.

We were met on the pier by a gray-haired man with a Cheshire grin. Hamit greeted us warmly and led us to his little red electric cart. There was room either for our luggage or for one of us—an easy decision. He piled our suitcases onto his back seat and drove slowly enough for us to follow him up the steep hill to the Zola apartment, which took our breath away (in more ways than one).

Hamit saved the day! That’s our luggage in his back seat.

The hike was a steep one, and the place was bright, spacious, and filled with lovely Turkish carpets and pictures. Home for a week, with an airy terrace and garden to boot.

Burgazada is a sleepy little island of about two square miles with a population of about 1200, which swells to ten times that in the summer. The island is like the top of a mountain, covered with trees except for the north side, which faces the big city. It’s odd to stand in silence among the trees and face a view of thousands of concrete buildings across the water (4 miles away).

Jini revels in the joys of nature with a bustling Istanbul in the distance.

Burgazada features picturesque Ottoman houses interspersed with 2 to 5-story apartment buildings climbing the hill above the water.

A matched pair of Ottoman houses, one refurbished and one needing some love.

There’s also a Greek Orthodox Church at our end of the town and a mosque at the other end.

The dome of the Greek Orthodox church just below our apartment.

There are also cats, which are both fed and hated by the locals. Yesterday one scratched a hole in our terrace screen (the little bastard).


This cat-sized hole is reminiscent of our red squirrel screen holes in Minnesota, only bigger.

Could this have been the culprit?

No cars are allowed on the islands (except for fire trucks and government vehicles), but the horse carriages of yesteryear have been replaced by a bevy of small electric carts. Horses did all the hauling and transportation on the island the last time I was here (2013), but in past years concerned citizens have protested the misuse of horses, especially with the steep streets on the islands.

This tourist cart carries people to a little outdoor restaurant on the back of the island.

Apparently the life expectancy of an island horse is two years after being enlisted to pull a carriage, so the government ruled to end their use. A few horse carriages are still available for tourist use, especially on the weekends. There’s a little “taxi stand” down by the dock; a short ride within the town is 30 lira (about $5), and a full tour of the island is 100 lira.The downtown taxi stand on Burgazada on the weekend. During the week there are only a few carriages at the ready, but on the weekend there are plenty.

Long ago there were as many stray horses as cats on the island, but we’ve only spotted a few as we’ve wandered the island.

We came across this fellow browsing in a park down the road on our first day.

Friday morning we walked down to the weekly street market, where we made a killing on FABULOUS vegetables, fruits, and cheese—more than we’ve been able to consume, and for a mere $20. The ailing lira has been to our advantage, though it’s devastated the Turks. When I lived here the lira was about the same as a Canadian dollar, ranging between 70¢ and 80¢. Now a lira is worth a whopping 16¢. Turkey is in a severe recession since the attempted coup in 2016, and the lack of tourists has made it all the worse.

Jini attempts to communicate with Yaşar, a singing vendor at the market. Below a dopey video I took of him singing. I’m a little challenged with videography, as you can see. Yaşar was singing, “Tomato, avocado.”

We’ve hiked most of the island as well as Kınalıada, a smaller and sleepier island next door to this one. That, too, has a high peak in the middle, and we hiked over the top and around the side. Though it was only about a three-mile hike, it was grueling (and hot).

Here’s a view of the back side of Kınalıada, just beyond a deserted beach area. I expect it will be busy come June.

We’d brought a picnic lunch, and we stopped to buy some icy water after we reached the peak for the second time (on our way back). When we got back down to the city side, we pulled off our shoes to cool our throbbing feet in the sea, which felt like Lake Superior in the summer. Cold.

Jini dries her feet after their frigid plunge into the Marmara. Pebble beach, like Lake Superior.

Saturday night my friend Julide (Julie Day) came out to the island, suggesting we attend a spring festival on the next island of Heybiliada: the Hıdır Ellez. Jini was coming down with a cold, so Julide and I went alone to enjoy a beer and mezes followed by an evening of music, dancing, singing, and watching other celebrants jump over the bonfire. My goodness! Sadly, the last ferry left at 8:45, which made our night a short one.

Julide and I pose with a woman we’d met while dancing. We’re squatting as a part of the festivities.
After dark there were scores of people jumping over this bonfire right on the street.

I also took Jini to tour Robert College, which impressed her immensely. It’s a stunning park-like campus, and I was tickled to chat with former teaching compatriots Cyrus, Jamison, Jake, Myra, and Alison. Cyrus showed us some major improvements to the campus, which was already gorgeous. When I mention to Turks that I taught at Robert College, eyebrows are raised. 

Gould Hall, on the Robert College campus
Robert College now has this bright, open cafeteria instead of the old basement one.

We finished our tour with a mile walk to Ortaköy, where we visited the newly-refurbished Ortaköy Mosque. Because it was the first day of Ramazan, we had to wait until the noon prayer was over then were allowed in. The main part of the mosque is alight from both windows and stunning chandeliers—only for the men. The women’s room is dull and unexciting. What does that say?

Here’s where the men pray…
…and the women at least get a few windows.

We also indulged in kumpir, the local baked potato mashed with butter and cheese, then topped with an array of items like corn, sausage, olives, pickles, mushrooms, tapenade, and other delicious items. I’ve never finished one before, but I cleaned that one right up. My belly felt like after a Thanksgiving dinner, but oh, well. It was delicious.

Jini gleefully accepts her kumpir, a baked potato with all the fixings.
Here’s a close-up of my kumpir.

So ends this sojourn. I have a 4:15 AM flight, and I plan to catch the midnight bus from Sultanahmet to the New Istanbul Airport. Rumor has it that Erdoğan built this airport because he wants to abolish any references to Ataturk, his nemesis. The older (very adequate) airport is called Ataturk. That’s a $12 billion expense to erase an old foe. Hmmm…

Supposedly this will be the largest airport in the world once it’s finished. People are up in arms over the expense, especially after he spent over a billion dollars on his 1000+ room presidential palace. The heck with the unemployed.

Well, I still love this country. Farewell, Turkey…until next time.

Last days in Istanbul—for now…

We had three more days in Istanbul, and our arrival was daunting, at best. Our driver, Sabahattin, performed valiantly, but the Sultanahmet traffic was chock-a-block. We spent nearly an hour to go three blocks. At least it felt like it. Five of us hopped off the bus about four blocks from our hotel so we could arrange rooms before luggage and other travelers arrived.

It’s faster to go on foot, even with a load.

We had less than half an hour to gussy up for an exclusive dinner Tom Olson had arranged. And oh—what a dinner! We weary travelers looked pretty classy for our trip to the Mikla Restaurant, rated #38 of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Yup, the world. It’s on top of the Marmara Pera Hotel near Taksim and absolutely fabulous. We started with a quick peek into the nearby Pera Palas, a Neo-classical hotel that dates back to the 19th century. We oohed and ahhed at its fabulous decor: heavy draperies, glittering chandeliers, and ornate carved wood. Ataturk stayed there, as did Agatha Christie when she wrote Murder on the Orient Express. It’s just been renovated, and it’s a masterpiece.

Susie, Marnie and Jane pose in front of the Pera Palas’ classic elevator.

We were early for dinner, so we imbibed in a glass of wine before boarding an elevator for the top story. We were led through the restaurant to an open terrace overlooking the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, and the Marmara Sea.

My dopey movie of the Bosphorus from the top of the Marmara Pera

If the view wasn’t enough to knock us off our feet, dinner was beyond compare. We were served numerous hors d’oeuvres like a whole-grain cracker topped with seasoned hummus and thinly-sliced radishes, and an anchovy baked onto a wafer-thin cracker with a heavenly sauce. Oh, and the bread—my goodness! Their whole grain bread was sumptuous and crusty with heavy olive oil for dipping.

Our radish hors d’oeuvre on hand-made whole grain cracker.


Anchovy filets baked onto a light pastry crust with a dipping sauce.

My first course was a 6-inch prawn served with seasoned seaweed, a tart/sweet red sauce and“şeker bean” hummus. YUM!

Oh, the prawns!

For the second course Susie and I shared a beef rib steak, rare, served with chard, mushrooms, artichoke, asparagus, and a reduced wine sauce. Oh, heaven! We couldn’t eat it all and hope the remains went to a worthy devotee.

Our rib steak, already half devoured–mustard sauce on the side.

My dessert, recommended by the waiter, was Buffalo Yogurt: a dollop of mint and molasses-flavored yogurt topped with strawberry sorbet and sugared walnut crumbles. It was a clear winner (we tasted each other’s desserts and mine was the best).

This may not look all that delectable, but it WAS! (Yogurt and sorbet rock.)

I give Mikla an easy 11 out of 10. Thanks, Tom!

The next few days I breezed small groups through three of my four walks, and I’ll share a few highlights. First of all, I know all too well that prices are higher in the Grand Bazaar because those 4000+ shops have a high overhead. I bought Turkish towels there anyway. At least I checked with a few vendors to get the best prices, and my friends followed suit. As we trekked the back streets behind the bazaar, we found the same items at a third of the price. Blush…

Rondi and Jane struggle to choose the finest Turkish towels in a Grand Bazaar shop.

We also stumbled across a man using  a funny little machine that looked like a coffee grinder. Actually, he was squeezing the oil out of black cumin seeds. They resemble poppy seeds or black sesame seeds, and the press puts out a core of black, hardened hulls pressed together into a tube. We were fascinated. The man explained that the oil (which looks like coffee) is good for your skin and for fixing stomach problems. He tried to sell some to us, but we passed.

The black cumin press.
A black tube emerges from the press.

I was excited to show my friends the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, but it was closed for renovation—BUMMER! I brought them down to a little spice wholesaler I know just below the mosque, where we all bought a number of spices.

Ulve Bey’s spices, outside his door.

Ulve’s son charged us 30 lira ($5) for a kilo of pul biber (a favorite Turkish spice like shaved pepper, but not so strong), and later I found it at a spice market near our hotel for 160 lira ($27) a kilo. More than five times the price. That’s why you should bargain in Turkey. It didn’t quite make up for the cost of our towels, but heck—I did my best.

Jini waits patiently outside while we shop for spices.

The next day we discovered a new museum in the Beyazit Hamam, which had been closed many years for renovations. It was damaged in the 1999 earthquake, and it took twenty years to fix it up, but what a find! The foundation of the hamam included recycled marble bits from the Forum of Theodosius (which ran along that stretch), including an upside-down soldier.

Can you spot the upside-down soldier in this foundation?

The museum itself had room after room of artifacts from old hamams, and the original sinks are still in place, three or four to a chamber. It was fun to think of sultans, harem slaves and community members lounging in these rooms, dumping hot water over themselves and indulging in soap suds massages.  

Any self-respecting woman in the harem would stagger in on these shoes. Imagine!


The wimps might wear these instead.


People would sit beside these sinks and scoop warm water over themselves. Or slaves might do it for them.

We wandered on to the Istanbul University gate, which was festooned with Turkish flags. I think nationalism is building again, hopefully in favor of secularism. Everyone we talked to has absolutely had it with the present regime. Enough said. 

The famed Istanbul University Gate— tourists not admitted.

Our final adventure on that trek was a visit with Recai, the owner of a little shop in the bookstore han (Sahaflar Han). He’s in my guidebook, but I didn’t recognize him because his tidy black beard is now gray, but he welcomed us warmly, insisting that we have a cup of tea and chat.

The cayçi serves Jini her first street tea.

It was a real hoot for us, and the man from the next shop, Fuat, brought Sue, Jini and me a bottle of water. Of course, we bought a few things from Recai—why not?

The friendly (and handsome) Recai Bey in the Sahaflar Han.

After lunch and a rest we trekked up to the Süleymaniye Mosque, the largest in Istanbul. It was closed many years for renovation; what joy to finally visit this expansive structure. An interesting note: ostrich eggs hung beside the 2000+ oil lamps to attract their soot, which was scraped off to make ink for the Sultan’s calligraphers.

Though the lights are electric, these ostrich eggs bring back memories of ages past.

Another note is that the famed architect Mimar Sinan designed this edifice and used to sit in a corner loudly slurping tea. When asked why, he explained that he was testing the acoustics of his creation. Sinan designed over 300 structures between the ages of 50 and 98. His tomb lies beside this mosque.

The Süleymaniye Mosque as viewed from the courtyard.


The interior of the Süleymaniye Mosque—descending domes.

We finished with a cup of ayran (a salted yogurt drink) and a shared bowl of fasuliye, a white bean dish with onions, peppers, tomato and spices. It not only offered us a delicious treat, but a needed break for our sore feet.

Fasuliye, ayran and bread. Yum!

It was hard to say goodbye to our travel compatriots, but Jini and I are staying on for yet another week at a friend’s apartment on Burgazada, one of the Princes Islands. More on that later.

Farewell, dear friends:
Ann Marie, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, Jane Hofkamp, Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt. Friends all!

Antalya: Ancient Florida in the Taurus Mountains

Turkish city number four is Antalya, my husband Jerry’s favorite. I have to admit, I love it, too. We are booked in a funky little hotel (Mediterra Art Hotel) in the old city of Kaleici.

Our hotel garden, perfect for group gatherings (when it’s not raining).

This old city, known as the castle town, sits on a Mediterranean harbor surrounded by the Taurus Mountains. It doesn’t get prettier than this, let me tell you. I think this is my sixth trip to this area, and I absolutely love it.

Hadrian’s Gate, the entrance to the old town.

When we arrived it was threatening rain, so we were treated to a fabulous dinner of sea bass (or other items for the few who didn’t want fish) at the Varyant, a gorgeous seaside restaurant. We were joined by the owner of Sojourn Travel Turkey, Chris Vannoy, along with Elif (our tour coordinator) and Jonathan, a photographer who would be shadowing us for a promotional video they’re producing.

I’m posing between Chris Vannoy, the owner of Sojourn Travel, and Elif, our tour organizer. Elif and I have communicated daily for many weeks (months?), so it was fun to finally meet her.

After dinner our guide Yunus (“dolphin” in Turkish) brought us through the Antalya Museum on a trek through time from 4000 BC to the Byzantine Era.

Our guide Yunus explains the history of the area.

Yunus guided us through room after room of incredible statuary, most from the nearby ruins of Perge. He finally led us through an amazing collection of marble sarcophagi, ancient carved tombs. One thing I found amusing was a sarcophagus of a woman who decided not to include her husband in her crypt. The face of the woman was carved on the sarcophagus, but her husband’s face was never carved because she decided she didn’t want to deal with him in the afterlife. Gotta love it.

The sarcophagus of a woman who’d had enough of her old man. I guess he had to buy himself another grave.

On our first day we were treated to a beautiful two-hour drive west along the Mediterranean (which was fine, as we were pretty bushed). We visited Myra (in Demre) to tour St. Nicholas Church. Remember him? Santa Claus? I’ll bet you didn’t know he lived in Turkey (which at the time was Asia Minor or something like that). It’s an ancient cathedral with stunning mosaics and an empty crypt. Apparently St. Nicholas’ remains are now scattered across the globe, mostly in Italy. Go figure.

One of the floor mosaics in St. Nicholas Church, circa 520 AD

One thing we’ve learned about the frescoes in these old churches is that people believed in the healing powers of the body parts in the paintings, and they would chip off part of an eye or a hand (or whatever related to their ailments), and they’d mix them with water and drink them. I imagine if there was any good to come of that, it was the power of their own faith. You’d think the plaster and paint would do them no good. It also meant that much of the frescoes have disappeared. So sad!


We met this simitçi vendor outside the church. A simit is a bagel-shaped crusty bread coated with sesame seeds.

Our next stop was a Mediterranean boat cruise. HEAVEN! We started at the port in Kekova, and the weather was perfect. Our captain was our guide’s friend, and we were tickled to find a cooler complete with every beverage one might desire, even rakı. We motored to a beach with an ancient ruin, and many of us indulged in a Mediterranean swim.

Jini paddles around near our boat.

Before long Yunus called us back to the boat for a lunch of five delectable salads and freshly grilled sea bass. The Turks usually serve the whole fish—head, tail and all, and we’re getting quite adept at weeding out the bones. The fish was delicious—moist and light.

Sea bass fresh off the grill. YUM!

My favorite part of the meal was a warm salad of diced potatoes and eggplant with garlic and tomato sauce. I think it’s about the spices though, I’ll have to work on duplicating it.

Lunch on the boat–unsurpassed!

We were supposed to stop at Mount Olympus for the Chimera (flames coming out of the rock), but we opted to head back home instead. We’re always a little overwhelmed by how much is on our agenda, so next time I’ll back it off a bit. More time in each city with less touring and more free time. Live and learn! I’ve loved doing this trip with Sojourn, and we’re all learning.

I’d arranged to meet my good friend Aşkin that evening, and Susie joined us for rakı and mezes on the harbor at the Castle Cafe—a great spot without many tourists. In fact, most of the people we saw that evening were Turks.

A dear friend from yesteryear, Aşkin is a ship designer in Antalya and treated Susie and me to a delicious meal of mezes with rakı.

Kaleici, the old town, is a fascinating old place, and on Saturday night the streets were filled with tables of young Turks out for the evening. Busy, busy, so we were happy to have found a quieter venue. It was fun to see Aşkin, who I met through his English teacher while I taught at Koç. He and his friend Söner toured my friend Teri and me around the hot spots of Istanbul with the intent of improving their English. Both of them became good friends, and we ended up introducing them to Istanbul’s historical sites. A fair trade.

On Sunday (after two VERY noisy nights, sleepless for some),we drove up to Termessos, one of my favorite ruins in Turkey.

Sally perches above the arena, which is mostly still intact in spite of many earthquakes over the centuries.

It’s situated high on a mountain and was inaccessible to Alexander the Great when he tried to invade it in the 4th century BC. Instead of worrying about defending themselves, the inhabitants were able to focus on their culture, which included theater and sophisticated water and sewer systems.

Rubble is strewn everywhere at Termessos.

Archeologists haven’t done any excavations up there, so the grounds are filled with vegetation and trees, and many of the walls are still standing. Sadly, many have been toppled by earthquakes, so the area is basically a rubble of columns, huge building blocks, and statuary. It’s phenomenal. Yunus, who has an archeology degree, told us it’s his favorite site.

Jane scrambles along the rubble.

Chris Vannoy models being a dead guy in a sarcophagus.

I pose in a niche once occupied by a far more beautiful sculpture.

Our wonderful chauffeur Orhan drove us back to the old city, where we were treated to a lunch overlooking the ancient harbor. It was all about the view, let me tell you.

Jini poses at lunch overlooking Antalya’s old harbor.

After that Yunus walked us through the Kaleici, where we stumbled on a cat house area overseen by a lazy dog. He even has a tag that says “MANAGER.”

The local cat house. As I’ve said before, strays are well cared for in Turkey.

We finally landed back at the Castle Cafe for rest, adult beverages, and a stunning view of the harbor. We were nearly finished when huge plops of rain invaded our space. We hurried under some trees and I started gathering everyone’s payments when I learned that Chris was treating us. Such a deal! More kudos for Sojourn Travel.

Doin’ our thing back at the hotel. (Tom waxes prophetic.)

After wandering on our own through town, we gathered back in the hotel courtyard for snacks, wine and rakı to chat and share our experiences. Sadly, we NEVER got enough time in these fascinating cities. I’m thankful, though, for a connected and fun group of traveling compatriots.

On to Istanbul!

Kapadokya is Cappadocia

Want to know how kind the Turks are? This street sign is clear evidence:

Protect those precious beasts!

DİKKAT YAVAŞ means “ATTENTION. GO SLOWLY.”Sweet, huh? Most of the dogs and cats in Turkey run free, and people feed them everywhere. You’ll never see a starving animal in Turkey. That’s kindness.

Our third Turkish city was Göreme, my favorite of Cappadocia’s cities. I have to admit, though, it’s changed. The sleepy little town I visited twelve years ago is now a thriving metropolis, but I still love it. We stayed in the Kelebek Cave Hotel, and most of us had luxurious rooms. So different from the backpacker’s paradise it was fifteen years ago. Everyone raved about their accommodations (sitting rooms and huge bathrooms), and a few of us entertained resident cats as well. (Don’t leave your windows open.)

Our little living room in the Kelebek, complete with two wing-back chairs and a fireplace.

We were awakened at 6 AM by the whoosh-whoosh of balloons skimming over the hotel—150 of them. Our guide explained that so many balloons every day have a huge impact on the environment and have driven off many animals and raptors. He said he hasn’t seen an eagle in years.

Jini toasts the ballooners with a morning cup of java. Filtered at the Kelebek!

Breakfast at the Kelebek is phenomenal—a vast array of olives (my favorite), vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheeses meats, breads and custom-made eggs and omelets. Fresh-squeezed orange juice puts it over the top. It was also our first hotel with actual filtered coffee rather than Nescafe instant. Woo-woo!

Breakfast here is beyond belief. You have no idea!

The first day was a whirlwind. Our guide Mehmet brought us up to Uç Hısarı to visit the cave home of Ismael, a sweet man who looked 80. I guessed (I thought Kindly) that he was 75, and he finally said he was 61. Evidence that Turks age faster. Tougher life?


Talk about compound nouns!

Ismael was a warm and willing host.

At any rate, we all enjoyed sipping tea and touring his family’s home for centuries. It’s now part of a national park reserve, so he has to pay rent to use it as a business. He spent nearly an hour with us, and our guide treated us to tea during his 45-minute lecture on the history of the area. Fascinating, but by the time he finished, we were frozen.

Ismael’s family home was festooned with carpets, kilims and all sorts of charming antiques.

Mehmet understood and took us to a quiet little cave hotel for Turkish coffee, cake, and treats. It was wonderful to see that there are still some serene spots in Cappadocia. With clean toilets, no less.

Türkçe kahvesi, orta, lütfen.

We went from there to the Open Air Museum, a series of ancient cave churches dating back to 1000 AD. Our guide Mehmet had book-size photos of the frescoes inside the churches, which helped us understand what we were seeing. The last time I was there we could take photos, but now it’s forbidden.

Our guide Mehmet prepared us for each of the churches we entered.

We got a big charge out of Asian tourists who love to pose dramatically in front of every site. The Chinese are a generation of singletons, and it shows.

My friend Susie ended up getting a camel ride, though she’s not just sure how. It was a highlight for all of us, though, and we thanked her for a good laugh.

I was a little late arriving on the scene, just in time to see Susie get lots of hugs after they finally wrestled her camel back down and pulled her off.

All camels are not beautiful.

We all went from there to the Dibek Restaurant, a lovely little spot in Göreme that’s one of my favorites. We were joined by Chris Vannoy, the owner of our tour company, and together we enjoyed a lunch of all the local dishes, served family style: mezes, çoban salata (shepherd’s salad), fasuliye (beans with lamb), mantı (tiny Turkish ravioli in a spiced yogurt sauce), and the crowning glory, testi Kebab (a hot meat dish cooked with vegetables in a pottery container that’s cracked open to serve). Every meal here is finished with either Turkish coffee or tea. Sigh.

Jane and Jane contemplate the historical offerings of the Dibek Lokanta.

We opted out of another tour in favor of a visit to a scenic overlook and then a Turkish winery. I must admit, I was once very critical of Turkish wine, but they’re doing MUCH better—as can be attested to by most of us in the group. With these fabulous lunches, we often end up finishing our day by gathering for snacks and wine (as well as the occasional rakı—the local anise liquor).

And a good time was had by all at the Kocabağ Winery.

The next morning we were up early and it was nice enough to eat breakfast on the outdoor terrace. Sally, Tom, Rondi, Jane and Jane all finagled balloon ride that morning and returned at 7:30, breathless with excitement. Ballooning in Cappadocia is impressive, at the least.

Mehmet and Erdal (our bus driver) picked us up at 8:45 for a visit to an underground city. Apparently there was an ant-colony-like city carved beneath every city in the area, and entire communities would move underground when attackers came, from the Romans to the Hittites to the Mongols. They’d push mammoth wheel-shaped stones over the entrance and sometimes stay underground for months at a time. There were stables, storage rooms, kitchens, and sleeping rooms, usually at least eight levels deep. Amazing. Most of us started the tour, but some of us fled to the surface when we reached down to the second level. Four of our ten finished the tour.

This is as far as I got before claustrophobia hit–level two. Those Cappadocians were brave folks.

Next we drove an hour to the Ihlara Valley for a 3-mile hike along a river. The valley was home for a huge settlement of Christians many centuries ago, and there are about sixteen cave churches along the way. We weren’t so thrilled about the 400 stairs down into the valley (Turkey’s Grand Canyon), but we were entranced with the lovely river walk. We went into three of the churches, which were very much like the ones we’d seen at the Open Air Museum the previous day. Here we could take photos.

The paintings in these churches were quite stunning–hundreds of years old.


Turkish graffiti: Ayşe, Sahin, Selman, Erdal…  Shame on them.

We were served a delicious lunch in outdoor tables along the river. Sojourn Travel included lunches every day on our tour, and their choices have been fabulous. This meal included bread and mezes, lentil soup, a fresh lettuce and vegetable salad, and our choice of fresh trout, köfte (meatballs), chicken shish-ka-bob, or güveç—lamb, beef, or vegetarian. (Güveç is one of my favorite dishes, a baked open casserole of meat and vegetables, often with cheese melted on top.)

Who doesn’t want to eat fresh fish beside a gurgling stream?

We were supposed to tour another cave monastery, but everyone cried “Uncle!” Everyone but Jini, that is. She’s game for anything that requires exercise, but we were toured out. We headed back to the hotel for naps (or hikes), and some of us opted for the Turkish bath. The women’s treatment ($30) included a face mask, a 15-minute sauna, a scrub and soap massage on a heated marble slab, then a shower, a screeching dip in a cool pool (closes the pores?), and finally a glass of apple tea while we relaxed and chatted on lounge chairs. Heaven!

Me, Jini, Jane and Rondi–ready for the Turkish Hamam treatments.

Mercimek (lentil soup), Ayran (a yogurt drink) and pide (mini-pizzas) finished off our evening. Well—except for our wine gathering in the courtyard. Short but sweet.

Oh, how I love the mercimek in Turkey. Lentil soup.

Farewell, Mehmet and your beautiful community!

One final example of Turkish kindness–gendarmes pushing a woman’s car that had stalled on a hill.


From Selçuk to Şirince (Sel-CHOOK to Sheer IN jay)

Çok mutluyuz. We are very happy about our three days in Selçuk, Turkey.

Our lovely room at the Bella (note the towel elephant on the bed.

We were welcomed to the Bella Hotel by Nazmi and Erdal, who remembered us from visits years ago (four of us have been there before). The rooms are sweet, decorated with carved walnut furniture, but the crowning glory is the third floor lounge replete with Turkish cushions and pillows. It overlooks the ruins of St. John’s Church and the Ayasuluk Citadel, a castle-looking fortress.

The comfortable seating on the third floor even had a fireplace, which Nazmi fired up daily for us.

Our upstairs lounge looked out on a stork nest across the street. The huge nest was like a haystack, shared by many smaller birds nesting in the mass of sticks. You can see bird nests hidden beneath Papa Mama?). Mangy in any case.

Mama and Papa Stork took turns minding the nest just across the street from our own aerie.

Because of the April 23rd Children’s Day holiday, most public buildings were festooned with huge flags and pictures of Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. This area of the country is very liberal, supporting secular government over the now-ruling AK Party, which promotes an Islamic government. I expect big changes ahead, as secular mayors have been elected in Ankara and Izmir, and many of us hope that this is a precursor to a broader shift in government. We will see.

The fortress, like every other public building, was festooned with flags (Ataturk in the middle) for the Children’s Day holiday (bayram).

Our first trip was to the House of the Virgin Mary on Easter morning. I used to think it was bunk, but I’ve come to believe that she did, indeed live there. Apparently she fled Jerusalem to save herself and was taken by boat to Ephesus, far away from Roman soldiers. John lived in Ephesus, and he had promised Jesus to protect her. He arranged for the building of a sweet little three-room stone house in an idyllic setting on top of a mountain near Ephesus. There’s some proof that she lived there, and visiting it is a moving experience. Apparently she lived 11 years beyond the death of Jesus, so she would have lived 64 years. She was betrothed at 12, and Jesus lived to 41.

The entrance to the Virgin Mary’s house, one at a time.

Our next stop was Ephesus, one of the world’s finest Roman ruins. You may know that Ephesus is the city criticized by Paul in the book of Ephesians for the people’s decadent lifestyle. It’s a stunning place even now, and we were fortunate to get there before the Easter crowds. Our guide, Rabia, was not only knowledgeable but took wonderful care of us.

Our brilliant guide, Rabia, shares more information than we can begin to absorb.

This was once a port city on the Aegean, but the waterway has been silted in over the years, with the sea receding a full 5 kilometers. Eventually the entire city was abandoned. The upper part of Ephesus was a ruling class area, a center for government and municipal control. They had sophisticated sewer systems, beautiful homes, and stunning marble structures. Little remains, of course, but archeologists are gradually rebuilding some of the structures and columns.

Many of Ephesus’ old columns have been repositioned, but many others were taken away and reused elsewhere in churches, temples, and even mosques.
The famous Ephesus library reconstruction was on our left as we descended into the main part of the city.

After Ephesus we were treated to a lunch of mezes and grilled meat before heading up to St. John’s Church, right across the street from our hotel. Gorgeous. 

Loved this column at St. John’s Church, carved with a Menorah on the bottom, the Maltese cross in the middle, and the Christian cross at the top.

That afternoon our host, Nazmi Bey, treated us to a carpet show followed by a feast of mezes and his homemade wine. We were pleased that his wine was actually quite good—unlike many homemade wines. I think the Turks are getting better at winemaking. It was never their forte (my uneducated opinion, of course).

Nazmi explains the history and symbolism of his carpets.
Big decisions!

The next day we drove up to the picturesque village of Şirince, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It was once a Greek village, and because it’s very much out of the way, it hasn’t been too commercialized.

Hiking in Şirince just makes me happy!
A local trekking home with his day’s shopping.
The owner of the Nişanyan Hotel in Şirince built a huge tower to protest the government. He also built himself a copy of a Lycian tomb and was imprisoned for his rebellion. (But–he escaped!)

You can still stroll by chickens, goats, and horses as you meander along the stone-paved streets, and women sell hand-made wares, spices and foods along the street. Sadly, many of the homes have been made into hotels and b&b’s, but I guess the world just can’t resist the charm of this lovely village.

A sweet doorway in Şirince.

In Şirince we were treated to a meal of gözleme, which is a thin flatbread cooked like a quesadilla with potatoes, spinach, cheese and meat inside. Yum!

This woman is making gözleme for a local restaurant.
Gozleme. YUM!

Tuesday was Children’s Day in Turkey, a huge holiday for everyone. After breakfast on the terrace we were all free to visit the local shops, the archeological museum, and a tile-painting business down the road. A good time was had by all.

On to Cappadocia…


Street market bargains: briefs for less than a dollar, and boxers, three for $1.75. Eat your heart out.

Istanbul—yet again!

Here I am, back in my Home Away From Home, eager to share it with nine friends. More had planned to come, but a few had to cancel. Maybe next time…

At the last minute we were rerouted to the New Istanbul Airport, reputed to be the largest in the world.

Istanbul airport
The New Istanbul Airport

Shiny doesn’t even begin to say how stunning it was, but this new airport is a full 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from the city center, which made it a LONG drive to our hotel, particularly during rush hour (which it was). I think it took us an hour and a half. Everyone was impressed, though, with our charming little hotel, the Kybele. It’s right in Sultanahmet, the historical part of the city. I’ve always been in love with this hotel’s countless hanging lanterns and antiques, even in the basement breakfast room. 

The Kybele lobby ceiling–magic!
The Kybele breakfast room

On the first evening four of us walked around the block to the Mozaik Restaurant, where Sally ordered a testi kabob, a hot dish baked in a closed clay pot that’s broken open at the table. The waiter brought it to our table in a flaming tray, and he handed Jini a knife to help him pound on the pot until the top exploded off. Jini’s comment was, “You can sure tell this isn’t Germany!” She’d just spent three weeks in Germany, and apparently she found the Turks a bit more enthusiastic and engaging than the Germans.

Jini assists in opening the testi kepab pot.


Breakfast the next morning was heavenly (except for the Nescafe coffee from a machine). I had all the olives I could eat (20?), along with tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, dried apricots, juice, yogurt, cereal, bread, and menemen (scrambled eggs mixed with tomatoes, onions and peppers). Most everyone slept well—everyone except Tony and me. Three hours after a long overseas flight. Sigh… 

The breakfast spread at the Kybele–more in the next room.

Our tour guide, Gökçen, was incredible. She was patient with us and very kind, bringing snacks  and cookies to share with us every day. She carried a little child’s umbrella for us to follow, with some unidentifiable critter on it. Part elephant, part cat, and who-knows-what-else. The best part, though, is that she’s an historian—a genius.

Gökçen with her yellow umbrella, guiding us through Topkapi.

Our first visit was to the Hippodrome, which the Byzantine emperors established as an arena for chariot races and other events. It features a monument from a German kaiser as well as two obelisks, one taken from Luxor, Egypt in AD 390. I’ll never understand how they transported a 30-foot marble obelisk, but somehow they managed it.

The inside of the German Monument on the Hippodrome. Note the green crest of Prussia and the blue sultan’s Tuğra (signature) in the gold mosaic dome.

Our next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is under renovation. Actually, everything we saw was under renovation, which makes me both glad and sad. Glad that they’re keeping these things up, and sad that we couldn’t see them in their full glory. Oh, well…

The ceiling domes of the Blue Mosque
Female guards are a new addition to the Blue Mosque, something I was pleased to see.


The mosque features beautiful stained glass windows, over 200 of them.

Our final stop for the morning (an overfull one, I must say), was the Haghia Sophia, also under renovation. It’s one of the seven wonders of the world, and understandably. The first church there was built there in 360 AD, but it was destroyed by fire. The existing structure was completed in 537 AD under the direction of Emperor Justinian. On the second floor we saw Nordic runes, the signatures of Vikings that had visited the church long enough to leave their graffiti in its marble railings. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, its stunning gold mosaics were plastered over and the building was converted to a mosque. Then in 1937 Ataturk converted the building to a museum, ordering that the mosaics be uncovered. 

I continue to be overwhelmed at the majesty of this incredible edifice.


Little about the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofia in Turkish) is more moving than the mosaic of Christ, who watches you as you progress through the upper gallery.

On our second day we toured Topkapi, the Ottoman palace from the 1450’s until  1853 . It’s a resplendent edifice, and there were no holds barred in its construction. We were awed time and time again by the ornate rooms we saw, decorated with tiles from Nicea (Iznık), abalone, marble, and finely-crafted woods. Its 174 acres are beautifully tended with stunning trees and flowers. Amazing!

One can enjoy the view over the Golden Horn from this lovely terrace.


This fellow was so lifelike that it took me a while to realize he was only a statue.



These eves far surpass those on my house!


The only problem with the palace was the throngs of tourists–OMG! By the time we left, we had to push our way out the gate, single file. There were hundreds of students piling into the entrance. We were more than glad to be leaving, believe me!

Imagine pushing your way through this mob to escape the palace. Unreal!

Gökçen had arranged a fabulous lunch for us in the Yildizlar Restaurant on the lower level of the Galata bridge. Talk about LUNCH! We had delicious mezes, a delectable fresh sea bass, and a dessert of fresh fruit. Heaven! Our grilled sea bass was light and moist—even the skin was delicious. 

My friend Tony was well into his meal before I even got started. That thing around my neck is a radio receiver for listening to our guide—an amazing invention.

We also watched the burning and opening of a salt-baked fish for another group—amazing. The waiter brought it out flaming, then tamped out the fire with a rubber hammer. After that he used a knife and the rubber hammer to break open the salt crust, then pried it open to reveal the fish, which he then divided and served. My goodness! 


The waiter taps at the salt crust to reveal the cooked fish…


Then as he lifts the crust to reveal the cooked fish, steam escapes…


And finally the delicacy is served to the waiting plates of eager customers.


After lunch we boarded a ferry for a Bosphorus tour, thankful to rest our weary feet as we marveled at the sights along this waterway that connects the Mediterranean, Aegean and Marmara Seas with the Black Sea.

This picturesque military academy sits on the Asian side, just across from Robert College, where I taught between 2007 and 2011.


We finally headed back to the hotel, though a few hearty souls took a side trip to the Spice Bazaar. I was done, done, done. We enjoyed a delicious dinner in the hotel dining room after an hour or two of cocktails in the lobby. And then—to our rooms. Ah, sleep!

Keep Walking Puerto Rico

We’ve just finished a few weeks in a new world, at least for us. A world of no final s’s—the morning greeting in Puerto Rico is not “Buenos dias” but “Bueno dia.”

Puerto Rico, Maria, Hurricane
Johnnie Walker says it all: Keep Walking Puerto Rico, an encouraging message after Hurricane Maria in September, 2017.


After an easy few flights, Jerry and I landed in San Juan at 10 PM, enveloped by muggy heat and eager to pick up our air-conditioned car. My son Ross and his girlfriend Shanna offered to meet us at the airport, but since they were a half hour away, we decided to just use my phone’s google maps to find them. Big mistake. There are numerous streets called Calle Coral, and we navigated to the wrong one, miles from Shanna’s apartment. My phone died as Ross tried to orient us, so there we sat, lost in a strange city at midnight. I finally discovered a usb port in the car and had Jerry pull over so I could jump out to get the charging cable from the trunk. Whew! Communication restored.

We finally met Ross and Shanna, only to discover that my wallet was gone. Probably dropped on the side of the road when I hopped out for the charger. At 1:00 AM we all backtracked to cruise the side of the highway for my lost wallet. Nothing. Shanna prompted, “You need to think like a Puerto Rican. We will find it. Let’s try a second pass.” Ross and I scoured the roadside with our cell phone flashlights, and at long last—there it lay! HOORAY!!! Disaster averted.

Puerto RicoRoss and Shanna, the reasons for our visit.


Thanksgiving felt odd in San Juan’s 85-degree, 95% humidity, but I was with my son and his Puerto Rican loved ones. The company was delightful and the food fabulous. Shanna stuffed a turkey with tantalizing yucca root mashed with garlic and herbs. YUM! The turkey fell apart in the pan, so we served ourselves from there. Sweet potatoes, a cold bean and vegetable salad, and the most delicious beans and rice I’ve ever tasted filled out our Thanksgiving repast. These people know how to do garlic. In fact, you can buy peeled garlic cloves in the store. Heaven!


Thanksgiving, Puerto Rico, San Juan
Shanna works on her yucca stuffing


Thanksgiving, Puerto Rico, San Juan
Jerry encourages us to enjoy the Thanksgiving repast.
Puerto Rico, garlic
Peeled garlic cloves in the produce section of the store for a mere few dollars.

And of course, there was football.

I braved the heat with multiple trips to the pool, thanks to Shanna’s son Bayoan, a 10-year old charmer who worships water. Me, too. That evening we piled into Shanna’s new car for a beach sunset, where Bayoan romped in the waves, launching himself into each swell as it crashed on the beach.

Puerto Rico, waves, San Juan
Bayoan romps in the San Juan waves at sunset.


The next morning Ross led us to our home for the next few weeks, a beach apartment he’d rented a few years earlier in Aguadilla Pueblo. Our dreams of air conditioning and wi-fi were dashed. We did, though, have huge open windows overlooking the Caribbean. The waves served as our lullaby, both for daytime naps and nighttime snoozes.

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla,
Our kitchen in Aguadilla




Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo
Our apartment living room (note Jerry and Mira on the couch)


Puerto Rico, Aguadilla, beach house
Our front porch just above the beach (built by Ross when he lived there).

Ross mopped the floors and headed off to get us more fans, dishes, linens and a coffee pot while we came to terms with our humble abode. It had electricity, a nice couch and chairs, running water (cold only), a functioning microwave, and a few electrical outlets. We were welcomed by a resident cat, Mira (Spanish for “Look!”), because she meows incessantly. “Look at me! Look at me!” She marched in and made herself right at home, and she got lots of love from Jerry. Even though I’m allergic to cats, I found her amusing.


Mira relaxes on our counter.


Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo
Sunset in Aguadilla–from the street above our apartment.

We grew accustomed to our humble dwelling (a cold shower is easier if you wet your head first), and enjoyed exploring the area. One evening we happened on a community celebration with live bands and free food at a local restaurant. Though we’d already eaten, we shared a plate of tantalizingly spiced pork with beans and rice as we sipped on yet another beer and enjoyed the scene.


Everyone in PR talks about Hurricane Maria. It’s deeply etched into everyone’s psyche and there’s evidence everywhere of devastated buildings. One woman we met at Jobos (pronounced Hobo), Ross’s favorite surfing beach, said that she hadn’t liked the U.S. until after the hurricane. A massage therapist, Christina said she was literally starving for weeks until U.S. organizations brought in food and water. She didn’t have much to say for Trump (everyone in PR seemed to despise him), but she was thankful for the generosity of Americans who donated to help PR. Sadly, too many corrupt officials stockpiled donations of food, water, and building supplies in warehouses to sell later at a profit. At a time when every Puerto Rican was scrambling to survive and to help each other, that behavior was unconscionable. Shanna said that in order to get water, her friend was required to sign off on getting 16 bottles when she was only given seven. If she didn’t sign, she got nothing. We seldom talked with anyone who didn’t need to share their Maria experiences. Heartbreaking.

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo, Maria
An Aguadilla school, deserted.

Many private homes and businesses have been or are being repaired, while government buildings still sit in disrepair, some deserted. Just blocks from our apartment was an abandoned beachfront school and an abandoned government building. A park and sports arena at the south end of the town, once beautiful, look like a dumping ground of broken equipment, overgrown weeds, and piles of trash and leaves. 

On the other hand, the entire country is brightened with street art—murals everywhere!


mural, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria
The side of a building at Buyé Beach—LOTS of octopus murals in PR


Puerto Rico, mural, street art
Loved this clever mural on a Boqueron kayak rental business that was never open. Sigh…


mural, Puerto Rico, Aguadilla, Hurricane Maria
Another mural in Boqueron

We spent our week visiting beach after beach, snorkeling, swimming, and exploring—and learning about currents. Beware the rip tide.

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo
Jerry reveling at a beach in Cabo Rojo.


I indulged in a brew after a long swim at Buyé Beach.


The second weekend we ferried over to Vieques (fare a mere $1 for seniors), a small island east of Puerto Rico, where we’d rented a lovely airbnb. Our host picked us up at the ferry pier in a dented-up old jeep. Michael was a delightful guide, an Irish/American/Puerto Rican who’s lived on Vieques for fifteen years. Our upstairs apartment, Casa Mama, was gorgeous—tastefully decorated and stocked with fresh baked bread, a pitcher of cold mango and papaya juice, eggs, fresh milk, coffee, and jam. Definitely a step up.

Ross and Shanna joined us Saturday morning, and after a hearty breakfast we explored the island, discovering a 375-year-old ceiba tree. We also visited a sacred  Taino aboriginal site and marveled at the scores of horses that roam the island. (2000, according to the internet.) Michael had warned us to beware of horses on the roads at night.

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo, CeibaAnn Marie and Jerry pose under the 375+ Ceiba Tree.

Puerto Rico, Vieques, Horses, horses everywhere on Vieques

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla Pueblo, Taino
Shanna investigates a carved stone at the Taino sacred site. The Taino aboriginals were virtually wiped out by explorers.


Puerto Rico, Taino, Vieques
A Taino carving of one of their gods.

The highlight of our weekend was a bioluminescent tour on Mosquito Bay. Twenty of us boarded a rickety school bus in downtown Esperanza (a three-block beach metropolis on the south side of the island) and bounced our way through the jungle to Mosquito Bay, the world’s finest bioluminescent site. It was totally dark as we hopped on kayaks and proceeded to paddle out into the bay, mesmerized by the glowing water when we dipped our paddles. Soon we spotted luminescent figures darting through the water—fish. Mosquito Bay is replete with dinoflagellates, tiny plankton that protect themselves from predators by enlarging themselves and emitting a blue-green light whenever they’re disturbed. We giggled and screeched at each new discovery. When we sat still without paddling, the water was filled with tiny star-like dots. Then when fish swam by, their disturbance lit the water around them. Ross loved the glow of huge tarpon swimming low in the bay, but my favorite was the needlefish that skimmed the water, creating a stroke of lightning across its surface. My camera didn’t capture the action, but I found  this little video, just in case you’re curious. Mosquito Bay has the highest level of dinoflagellates in the world, according to our guide

We’re on our way home now, bracing ourselves for snow shoveling, skiing and snowshoeing. In the words of Johnnie Walker, “KEEP WALKING, PUERTO RICO.”

A note: There are NO plastic bags in Puerto Rico (as of December 30, 2016)

Puerto Rico, Aguadilla, Hurricane Maria
Ross and his old mom—such joy to have a few weeks in his world.

Norway, Week One

I’ve been in Norway a week now, though it seems longer—so much activity, so much beauty, so much information!

My first airplane view of northern Norway. WOW!

I came for a family reunion of the descendants of Johannes Olsen, my great-great-great grandfather. Not just me, but my brother Steve and sister Laura (and their spouses) as well as my niece Cortney came as well. Sadly, my husband Jerry had to cancel at the last minute because of a serious back problem. It broke both our hearts, as the second week was a planned kayak trip around one of the Lofoten islands. Sigh…

After a lonesome night at a Bodø B&B, I hit the road for Bø i Vesterålen, a 6 1-2 hour drive including a ferry ride. I got up at 5 AM to be sure I caught the ferry, then sat in the ferry line playing sudoku on my phone as I waited. Another sigh…

The views along the way were spectacular.

I found my way to the village of Bø (in the kommune of Bø), and turned in to Bøhallen, the community center. You can probably figure out the meaning. In spite of a light rain, the parking lot was packed with LOTS of people who look like me (and my uncles and aunts) grilling hot dogs and speaking Norwegian. I found my way to the registration table and picked up our t-shirts and a schedule. 

Our colorful reunion t-shirts, in Norwegian, of course.

Marit, one of the organizers, made a big fuss over me, hugging me like an old friend. She hunted around for her brother Øyvind, who had instigated and planned the whole event, and he welcomed me with a brilliant smile and another hug. It wasn’t long before Laura and Rob found me. Whew! English.

After milling the crowd a bit, they drove me to see their sweet little room in a boathouse B & B down the road. Then we found our way to the afternoon event, a fishing boat ride out to the island of Gaukværøya, which used to be a fishing village. We asked our captain (a fisherman named Tom, also a relative) to wait for our niece Cortney, who was minutes away. Since it was a small group, he agreed. Lucky Cortney. Lucky us.

Captain Tom rowed everyone from his fishing boat to the island. Cortney, my second cousins AnnBjorg and Irene and Ingor, my second-cousin once removed.

Arne, a local historian, shared the history of Gaukværøya, settlement that began in the middle ages and lasted until the early fifties, when hundreds of residents had to dismantle their homes and move them to the mainland (also an island). Everything in Vesterålen is an island. Go figure. The entire area is an archipelago, I guess. The government wasn’t willing to run electricity or offer government services to such remote residents, so they offered them a payment in exchange for giving up their rights to return to their little island, which is now littered with foundations, both ancient and modern (stone and concrete).

Tom’s father, also named Arne, recounts his memories of life on the island.

Anyway, it was fascinating to learn about life on Gaukværøya. In addition to Arne’s descriptions, Tom’s father Arne shared stories about growing up there. Luckily, Ingor sat beside me and translated; most everything was in Norwegian. The island is rugged— all rocks and bumpy ground, so apparently the children had a heyday while their parents worked. They attended school on the island when it was convenient, because they often had to help with fishing and household responsibilities.

My brother’s family and I were hosted by my fourth cousin, Sonja Klaussen, and once we finally got home after dinner, we sat up until the wee hours talking. It was light all night, and it’s energizing. The whole time I was with family I was up until 2 AM. (At home I start yawning around 9:00.)

My fourth cousin Sonja Klaussen hosted us in her lovely home.

Saturday morning we woke to see four moose grazing in Sonja’s back yard. They’re smaller than our Minnesota moose, but delightful to watch nonetheless.

A Norwegian moose checks us out as we marvel at Sonja’s backyard view. Really!

The day was filled with reunion events—an orientation, a coffee hour, a presentation on the lineage from our great-great-great grandfather, then photos outdoors.

The twelve children of my great-great-great grandfather, Johannes Olsen. Two wives.

They organized a group photo for the descendants of each of Johann’s twelve children, then we had a mass photo of all 300 relatives. Shocking. It was fun, though, to see who had descended from my great-great grandmother Johanna Sophie (1818-1889).

Organizing the masses into photos of each line of the family was no easy task.

Too much information, I know.

The day ended with a catered buffet banquet and a dance at the community center. Pretty much the kind of music my grandparents liked dancing to, but we did our best. I needed the exercise.

My brother Steve, wife Ann and daughter Cortney toast at the Johannes Olsen banquet.
Me, brother-in-law Rob, and sister Laura enjoying the festivities. Do we look full yet?

On Sunday my sister Laura, Rob and I skipped out to go on a whale watching tour in Andenes, at the north end of Vesterålen. The drive was spectacular, and the event started with a museum tour that astonished and enlightened us. We learned how the whales use sonar, and that only male whales come up north. The ladies stay behind in the mid-Atlantic raising their young and waiting for the next round of mating.

Our guide led us through a fascinating whale museum. This, my friends, is a whale’s tail.

Oh, I nearly lost my finger on the boat, too. After we got on we were standing along the side of the boat, and I had my hand over the edge. Little did I know there were huge plastic bumpers that meet the edge of the boat at low tide. ARAUGHHH!!! I screamed when I felt my fingers squeezed, then yelled for everyone to PUSH! People came to my rescue, and I was able to extricate a very smushed finger. By the end of the ride it had recovered. 

The captain of the ship wears headphones to pick up the clicks of the whale’s sonar system, then he follows them until the whale surfaces for air. Amazing.

The captain sat up top with headphones on, following the whale’s clicks as he hunted below.

We got to see a whale surface twice. He’s a local resident sperm whale, and they call him Glenn. Imagine a boat with 60 people who’ve waited hours to see a whale, everyone with their cameras at the ready.  “People at the railing bend down so everyone can see!” (in Norwegian, German and English) This old lady ended up sitting on the deck with my camera, snapping, snapping, snapping photos of Glenn as he spouted over and over and finally dove. So who got the best photos? My sister Laura, who pulled out her iPhone at the last minute and got spectacular shots of the flukes as Glenn headed down. Go figure!

This is my photo of Glenn diving. I was trying to get the mountains in, too.

We rented a stunning 3-bedroom airbnb on a peninsula between mini-fjords, just down the road from Bøhallen.

Steve and Ann pose by the kayaks in front of our spectacular rental home. Wish we could have stayed longer…

It was a joy to have time with my siblings to process the information about our ancestors. Our second cousin AnnBjorg invited us to her house for a reindeer feast on Monday, and it ended up being an eight-hour affair, including a delectable meal, a visit to my great-grandparents’ graves, and a long drive to Nyksund, a restored fishing village about an hour from AnnBjorg’s house. 

Chef Sten and AnnBjorg distribute beverages for our dinner as Ingor looks on. We were treated to thin-sliced reindeer in a sauce like beef stroganoff. YUM!
We visited my great-grandparents’ graves, Nickolai and Stina Willumson, whom we share with AnnBjorg and her sisters.
This is our first view of Nyksund, which sounded like “Nixon” to me.
My brother Steve poses as we leave Nyksund with our second cousins, Irene and AnnBjorg. Lovely hosts!
Just to let you know, I was there, too. We all posed at the end of the village, tiny as it was.

We also learned that AnnBjorg’s house stands beside the one where my grandfather grew up. Who knew?

My grandfather’s childhood home stood next door to AnnBjorg and Sten’s house.

The next day Laura and Rob left, and Steve, Ann and I walked to the Bø historical and outdoor museum. Fascinating. It included a famous statue of a man holding a crystal that catches the light from the midnight sun and the northern lights.


The famous Bø statue, carefully guarded by a possessive curlew who’s left its signature on the man’s head and shoulders.

After that we rented kayaks to paddle along the coast by our house. 

After kayaking the shore near our house, Steve and I landed on a soggy beach at low tide.

That night we were treated to a brilliant sunset, and here in the land of the midnight sun, it lasted about three hours. What a show it was! Once again, I got to bed around 2 AM. Oh, well.

Our spectacular three-hour sunset. Only in Nordland.

On Wednesday morning we parted ways after a walk to the end of the road. Steve and Ann were heading to Trømsø, and I was heading for Reine on Lofoten. My drive was supposed to take about 4 1-2 hours, but I’d decided that I would stop at some of the waysides to take photos. I did it a lot. So much that my drive took seven hours, especially since it was the first totally sunny day since I’d arrived.

Some sweet town on my way to Reine.
As I drove, the mountains got taller and craggier.

I stayed in the Lofoten Bed and Breakfast, which wasn’t as nice as I’d expected—and it cost nearly as much as our beautiful rental in Bø. It was just a room with a few chairs and little hot pot. Luckily, there was a refrigerator outside my door to store all the food I’d purchased for my week alone.

It was a long, lonesome day. After I checked in I walked through the town of Reine, which is lovely but a bit too congested and commercialized for my tastes. They’ve stuck with the red boathouse theme, so it’s cute, but a little too busy.

I’m quite sure this is a view from the Reine harbor. Hard to tell–everything here is spectacular.
Another view of Reine–in the next morning’s sun.

I was thankful that the rest of my stay would be in Å, the town at the far end of Lofoten. More about that later.