Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Month In Türkiye

  All my lovely plans of blogging our trip to Türkiye this summer were ruined by my charge converter blowing while in the mountains.  The electric current there is undependable, with frequent spikes and outages.  I have learned, the hard way, to have a back-up charge converter and a back-up laptop battery.  Now, back in Istanbul, I am borrowing a niece's computer, complete with funkyTurkish keyboard.  I am finding my way around it.  when I get back to NY, I will have to readjust to my own.

   As well as seeing some sights in Istanbul, travelling to the mountains of the Sivas province, hiking, mountain climbing, swimming in the river, climbing up waterfalls, going down the rapids, we have experienced the quiet pastoral farm life of Belentarla (in Zara, Sivas province).  Roosters and tractor engines revving up awaken us every morning.  There are cows and goats to be milked, eggs to be gathered, baby chıcks and baby turkeys to round up, new calves and goat kids to groom and feed.  There is fresh bread to be baked in the separate room with its open hearth, baked on a hot stone, or thin köy pita baked on a huge circular metal pan over hot coals, listening to the Zaza chatter and laughter of the local neighbor ladies who come by to help.  There are endless pots of çay (Turkish tea), lots of meals made from fresh picked farm vegetables and wild herbs.  Regular additions, that we do not see in America, like purslane and lamb's ear (both small leafed spinach-like plants), enhance spicy baked goods.  Men help each other at the drop of a hat, at any bigger farm chore, hooking up larger farm implements to the tractor, harvesting everything from wheat to potatoes to honey, in this place that is both the Bread Basket of Türkiye and the Honey Capitol of the world.  Wildflowers abound in every conceivable color and fragrance, and the natives know the medicinal properties of every wild plant.  To know the köy (village) is to love the köy.  Life here is simpler, but physically challenging, peaceful and easier paced than life in New York.

   more later...we are being called to breakfast!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hollywood in Istanbul?

     The 4 kids were unusually quiet (as opposed to their normally rambunctious selves while together, playing soccer and the like), occupying themselves for most of the afternoon on Sunday.  Just before dinner, they came in all excited.  It seems, they made a movie!  They used a cell phone with video capacity and made a series of short films, like separate scenes of the same movie, complete with musical interludes and background sounds.  Resembling some Mafioso-type films, they made a very funny version of their own, pretty authentic, considering what they had to work with.  They are each quite dramatic and creative.  I want them to post it on YouTube.  We'll see what comes of that.

     Ever the ESL teacher, it has given me some ideas for future lesson plans.  For both my elementary school charges and my adult ESL classes at the college, this kind of assignment would be very good for
developing English skills, while their focus is on the creative design of the drama at hand.  At SCCC, we use The Chicken Smells Good, which has some dialogues, and we often act them out.  The classes always enjoy that.  This would take it to the next level.  Maybe we could start with one of the Chicken dialogues, then create a skit to follow.  Hmmm...

Turkish Airline

  My favorite airline, of the dozen or so I've tried, is Turkish Airline.  They do not make a fuss about overweight baggage, are very courteous and helpful in all respects, and serve restaurant-style meals with unlimited beverages, snacks, and sandwiches, even in economy class.  Each seat comes with its own screen on which various channels are available, with games, movies, t.v. shows, documentaries, shorts, travel info, and many other things for all ages.  My son can literally be on it nonstop throughout the 10-or-so hour flight, with no complaint.  I cannot sleep sitting up, so I watched almost 4 movies.  That's probably the most movie watching I've had in the last 6 months!
     Upon arriving to Istanbul Attaturk Airport, I have to go through the visa line (only $20), have my son's citizenship card checked and American passport stamped (he has full dual citizenship...I don't have my Turkish passport yet, only family card...need to finish that process...lazy me.)  Then, on to baggage claim.  I hate baggage claim in every airport...waiting with the crowds of people while suitcases come down the belt, spotting yours, elbowing your way to the right spot, then wrestling the bigger bags off without hitting anybody, all the while keeping the eyes in the back of your head trained on your child guarding the baggage cart.
    This trip, our plane took off on time, and we actually arrived early.  There was some storm we flew through over the Atlantic, with a little turbulence, and I wonder if it pushed us along a little...we were 40 mintures early!  It gave us time to freshen up in the airport bathroom before seeing the family...I always feel like I must look like I flew here on my own power (without benefit of an airplane), after a 10-or-so hour flight.  (It's an embarrassing way to meet people!)  It's funny to sit and watch the throng, as they search for their arrivers, some with signs in hand, or flowers, while we sit in comfort, knowing ours in on the way.  We actually saw the family, before they saw us, as they came through airport security.  (In Istanbul, you must go through a security gate, complete with metal detectors, upon entering any airport or official building of any kind...even in bigger shopping malls.)  The 3 children, Little Sir's closest age-peers here, cousins in our apartment building) have all grown so much in 11 months time, as has he.  Ulas (U-losh), nearly 14, is taller than everyone, approaching 6 foot, and has developed a deeper voice.  Sidal (See-doll), just 11, has gotten beautiful and mature-looking, with a new almost-womanly grace beyond her years.  Mert-can (Mert-John), 12, is the same as before, just taller, looking like he's been on a stretching-machine, with the same handsome face and impish know he's cooking up some adventures to come.  When the 4 children see each other, they revert to their littler selves, shedding the newfound maturity, and become playmates again, as they have been since first meeting 7 years ago.  For the rest of the trip, they will be mainly inseparable, except for when Ulas is at work...another new development.  He has a summer job working with Hasan, his father, in a print shop.  He has some tatil days (holiday), so can play with them until work resumes Monday morning.

     And so the trip begins, leaving New York on July 12, arriving July 13.

Back on the Blog!

Congratulations to me!  After much struggling with the funky Turkish internet in this house, the Turkish comuputer keyboard and other issues, I am finally connected to gmail with this blog!  If you read, please comment.  (It's a lot more fun that way.)

My little son and I are in Istanbul until late tomorrow night, then we will fly to Sivas.  It is very hot and humid in Istanbul, but Sivas is in the mountains where the air is clear and dry and the nights are cool enough to need jeans and a hoodie.  As the locals say, it's good sleeping weather there.  The only drawback of Sivas is the multitude of mountaintops interferes with cell phone signals and internet.  I cannot use wireless there, and I am not here long enough this trip to recharge my Turkcell Vinn, a portable wireless connection.  It's a little pricey for only 9 days' use in Istanbul.

Back later...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy February Break

I've been really out of touch with this blog...too much work!

Happy February Break, everybody!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Living In Sivas

I realize this blog is now out of chronological order, but that can't be helped. I still have not gotten to download the problems...but will eventually. For now, we'll just have verbal descriptions.

Our little company that travelled to Sivas from Istanbul included mil (Elif-anne), DH's grandmother (Yeter-anne) {"anne" means mother...they attach this to the first name, as we do with "aunt" and "uncle}, sil (Fatma), uncle's wife and 2 kids
(Guler, Ulas and Sidal) and DH's aunt (Nilufer), Little Sir and I. DH's uncle, Ali, met us in Sivas, as he was coming from somewhere else. Seems like a lot of people for a 2 bedroom house, but it worked!

When we arrived in Sivas (a city, and also a province), in the "city" of Zara (a very loose term, here,) we then had to take a "service" car...a 15 passenger van, with all our luggage and food packages on the roof...for an hour and a half ride to the house, out in a pastoral village nestled in the mountains.

As all of Turkiye has interesting history, Sivas, in Central Turkiye, east of the capital city of Ankara, certainly has enough tales to fill a history book, all on its own. It was an important city of Asia Minor under the empires of Rome, the Byzantines, and the Seljuk Turks. In 1400, it was sacked by Tamerlane, and fell to the Ottoman Turks (the next empire) after that. The winding roads through mountain after mountain after mountain, have periodic deposits of its historic past. From our house, we made daily excursions, mostly by foot, to explore the beauty of the natural scenery and soak in the history, as well.

At 1275 meters altitude (approx. 3825 ft.), I often felt my ears popping on the bus ride, and also as we climbed some of the higher peaks. Sivas is the highest city in the Central Anatolian region of Turkiye, the most mountainous in this mountain range.

I have always loved mountains, from my childhood days when my father would take us on spontaneous trips upstate New York in the summer. Although I have grown up on Long Island, and have salt water in my veins, I have always said that I could leave the sea...the ocean, bays, etc...if I was in mountains with water. I was delighted to find that our little house had absolutely gorgeous mountain views from every angle. Out of the kitchen, bathroom, and 1 of the bedroom windows, you could see the mountain at the rear of the house (I don't know the mountain names now.) You could see another tiny village (and I mean tiny...villages have anywhere from 20 - 200 houses) nestled at the foot of that mountain, going about a quarter of the way up. From the living room and other bedroom, and the front porch, 4 or 5 other mountains were in view, in every direction.

In front of the house is a small stream, which comes directly out of the rock of the mountain's base, about a mile and a half away, and meanders its way through the village. This stream is wonderful, potable fact, much of the water in this region is bottled and sold...and Turkiye supplies water to many countries of the Middle East...perhaps its greatest national treasure. This water source had also been tapped, below ground, in a well, for the house water.

At the end of the road, there was a fountain, where this water was piped in, and locals would use this to carry water to places where it wasn't piped yet...the concrete workers, for example, would fill water tanks in their trucks, and take it to cemeteries or new construction sites.

Other similar water sources, fresh from the rock at mountain bases, and cold from melting snow, untouched previously by human hands, were sprinkled all over the region, and we got to know which ones we thought tasted best. Many times we would go on excursions with empty 2 liter bottles and bring this delicious water back to the house.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

European Toilets - To Pay or Not to Pay

I have a vague memory of pay-toilets in Italy in 1983. I dıdn't have much need for them, so it wasn't much of an issue. On our road trip to Sivas, it was another story. Every time the bus stopped on our 14 hour Metro-bus trek (very nice, made by Mercedes Benz), we'd all troup out and use the potty. At each one, there was someone in a little booth collecting coins. It's cheap...probably about 20 cents, but still...what if you don't have any money on you? I haven't actually seen any homeless, but what about them? And, for having to pay for it, you'd think they'd always be clean and well-stocked. Not so. Just like American publıc restrooms, some were nice and some were really horrible and stinky.

Anyway, a word to the wise. In many European countries, you have to always have money in your pocket, just in case you hafta go!

Back in Istanbul!

We are back in Istanbul, and ınternet-land. Lots to write about once I get caught up with everything else. Keep posted.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Going to Sivas

It has been unbelievably hot in Istanbul. I talked to my dad on the computer (webcam) and he did the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit...said, "That can't be's 103!" I said, "Yeah, that's about right. And it's humid, too." You just about get out of the shower and dressed, and you have rivers of sweat running down your face and back again.

But, after massive packing and re-packing we are on our way to Sivas, to Zara, the mountain village where mıl and fıl are from. Even though we are going to a house, it's like preparing for camping. I dıdn't realize before, they take food, too, as the house is pretty far from markets. Local farmers come regularly with milk and eggs, but I don't think much else. We'll see.

I'll be without internet for 10 days or so, but I'll keep a journal, and post blog entries, hopefully with pıctures, later!


On a visit to Refiye Yenge's (aunt from the father's side), Thursday, her 17-year-old daughter, Özge, was showing us pictures of some high school field trips. We came across pictures of Rumeli Hisar (castle), and were reminded of how beautiful it is. On our last trip, we got to view this from the water on our tour-boat trip with other cousins. (I have tried to insert pics here, but this computer is kinda old and not cooperating.) Little Sir and I became enamoured of it from a distance.

Özge's father, Huseyin (Amca..."uncle"), offered to be a 2 day tour guide on his days off and we had a glorious time - probably our best in all of our Turkiye excursions to date.

Thursday eveniıng, we went to the "telefırik" (cable cars) up to the top of one of the "hills" of Istanbul (it's a city buılt on 7 hills, just lıke Rome), overlooking the Bosphorous. At the top, there is a restaurant\tea garden, Pierre Loti, after the French poet who built it late 1800's. He rubbed elbows with all the bigwigs of the time, including Attatürk. After relaxing at the tea garden, overlooking the sea, we chose to walk all the way down the ancient steps (real ankle-killers.) These have been there for hundreds of years...maybe more, as there is a cemetery on either side, where many historic notables are buried.

We dıd some evening-strolling and window shopping, and finally ended up at a "government" restaurant where Huseyin, a civil servant (engineer for the water district) got a really nice discountç. The food was lovely - everything from zeytinyağlı (olive oil drizzled cold appetizers, stuffed green peppers, stuffed grape leaves and eggplant, spicy eggplant salad, green bean salad) to grilled chicken and sea trout with pilaf and bread...ending, of course, with tea, and chocolate dondurma (ice cream) for Little Sir. Our delightful evening ended with a long bus trek back to their house, during which Little Sir fell asleep and had to be carried home the last leg by Huseyin Amca. He woke up and mumbled, "When are we going to the castle?" and konked out again.

Refiye Yenge put all of our clothes in the washer while we showered and donned borrowed clothes to sleep in. Since Turkiye doesn't have clothes dryers, I was afraid the drip dried clothes would still be wet, but the next day, the hot morning sun had dried them by the time breakfast was over and we were ready to leave.

Homemade breakfast is a big daily affair. Huseyin made an omelet: potatoes, tomatoes, assorted peppers, onions, served with black Turkish olives (meaty, strong flavored and quite salty), cucumbers & tomatoes, several cheeses, cherry preserves, pastries (not sweet: stuffed with cheese, peppers, spinach) and fresh bread. (Turkish bakeries run about 16 hours a day, so there's always fresh bread...the Turks demand it fresh at every meal.)

Then, we headed off on our full day of tours with our very professional guide. Really, Huseyin should do this as a side job. He knows all the facts, history, funny stories about so many places, the best routes to take, etc., and, as a government servant, got in free or cheaply in many places. We went to Boğaziçi Universiti, where I'd love to work, the Balikpazarı (fıshing wharf), then Rumeli Castle until it closed and they kicked us out. We excitedly explored every staircase, every turret, every tower, cannon, peephole, the amphıtheater in the middle, and every incredible view of the Bosphorous. Truly breathtaking. The water is so blue - deep turquoise, similar to the Mediterranean, but a little greener.

The history of the castle was just as interesting as the view was gorgeous. In 1451, it was ordered to be built by the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, in an effort to control the water route into Istanbul (then Constantinople) from invasion from the Black Sea, and thus crucial inland waterways. Literally "under the gun" with the loss of control of Turkiye ımmınent, the Sultan made it a contest between his top pashas (generals), to see which regiments could complete their section fastest. This ımmense castle, I think the largest fortress of its kind in Europe, was completed in just over 4 months...really an amazing feat. It is still in great conditıon, not a ruin at all.

Our trek into history ended, and we went back to the fish wharves where we dined at another government restaurant...a fish restaurant right on the docks, with water running beneath it. Little Sir kept hanging over the railing by his chair to feed the fish bread in the water below. We each had different local fish, from appetizers to soup to entrees, and even without the employee discount, it was very very reasonable. Cheaper than McDonalds in the U.S. Even without famıly, Istanbul is definitely a vacation spot I'd recommend!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shopping Inconsistencies

I understand all about world trade (in theory), import and export taxes, costs of shipping and all that, but sometimes the drastic differences in prices between U.S.A. & Turkiye is remarkable. Bıg name brands from the States like Nike, Converse, Levis, etc. can be upwards of a hundred dollars more in Turkey, while other products are really cheaper here.

Case in point: suitcases.

Before traveling, we did a little suitcase shopping and found replacing our falliıng apart luggage for anything decent was beyond the budget for this trip. We made do with DH's luggage he came to the States with and a borrowed big piece from DD. Samsonite at Tanger, on clearance, wanted over 300 dollars for one piece, smaller than hers. DH suggested İ try in Istanbul. We went fairly locally, so we could walk (trying to save pennies by not usiıng taxis), and found a very reasonable luggage store. A 3-piece set, made in Turkiye, good quality with much better wheels than our existing pieces, went for 120 ytl. (1 American dollar is approximately 1 1\2 ytl - Turkish lira). So, about 80 dollars...for 3 pieces. DH said I should go back and buy 2 more bigger pieces for the next trip. Crazy not to, as what we have is really finished.

I don't know what gold is going for an ounce in the U.S. It seems really prıcey here, right now. Have to check out the comparison of that. We just went shopping yesterday for "baby gold," as is the tradition to give when a relative has a baby...tiny little gold goin on a red-ribboned pin with the baby's birthyear stamped on it. These get cashed in, as they lose their value after the year (don't ask me...I still don't quite understand that.) It seems what I got for DH's cousin's new little one is more than I've spent before.

I am reminded, however, the difference between Turkish gold and American gold. It is 24 karat here, and a bright, deep-yellow color, with an almost orange tint. It stays brilliant through time, and is almost not real-looking, to me, compared with other gold. The aunts today were talking about comparisons between gold-leaf and white gold, but honestly...they were talking so fast, I couldn't quite follow the conversation. (It's tiresome to keep saying, "Lütfen, daha yavaş konoşur musunuz"..."please, talk a little slower.")

more on shopping later...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

To Dance In The Streets

We danced in the street last night, 18-year-old nıece, Gizem, DH's childhood buddy, Ali, and I, to the wedding music down the steep hill. The others watched, clapping and grinning at the American doing the folk-dance steps in these circle dances. As is Turkish and Mediterranean custom, the evening before and the day of the wedding, folk musicians set up outside the couple's parents' house and play for hours, while friends, family and neighbors (and uninvited guests like me!) come to join in the festivities and dancing. It's like a big public well-wishing for the new couple.

I was glad I remembered the steps from last visit! I'd like to learn others. (I taught them the Cupid Shuffle...not quite a fair trade, but...maybe we'll do the Alley Cat, too. Certainly not the Hokey Pokey. The girls know samba & some ballroom from dance group.)

The Aspiratör

My favorite new Turkish word is "apiratör" (ya gotta rrroll those 'r's), meaning "room fan". It's been so hot, we borrowed a large oscillating fan to sleep at night. I love the aspiratör.

It's funny, it depends what time of day it is, which windows are opened in the house. In the early hours, all the windows are open, but by 9:30 a.m. or so, only those on the waterview side of the house are opened. The side getting sun always has windows closed and curtains drawn. (Most Turkish homes have layers of white cotton curtains, the one facing the room being lace. Turkish lace is really something. I haven't seen anything like it since my grandmother's. Haven't priced any yet, but it is gorgeous.)

In the earlier part of the day, there is a beautıful breeze coming through the windows of the kitchen and the little bedroom. These windows overlook the Bosphorus, or Istanbul Straıt. This strait forms the boundary between the European side (Thrace) and the Asian side (Anatolia). There are other straıts ın Turkiye, such as the Dardanelles, which have been used for internatıonal trade for centuries. The Bosphorus (Istanbul) connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara (whıch, through the Dardanelles, is connected to the Aegean Sea, which ıs connected to the Medıterranean...)

("The hip bone's connected to the...thigh bone...the thigh bone's connected to the...knee bone..."...I digress...)

Later ın the heat of the day, these windows are closed with the rest...they only let ın hot air, which is oppressive. They're reopened in the evenıng, when the breezes are cool again.

I love looking out the bedroom window at the water, the bridge connecting 2 continents, imagining all the history that's happened here. And at night, the city is all lit up, looking ancient and exotic, yet modern at the same time. Istanbul: it brıdges past and present as it bridges Europe and Asia.

Each time I come, I understand the language, the culture, the people, the history a little bit better. I feel less of an outsider, an observer, and more of an active participant. All that is in my brain, lessons from school and lessons from life, have prepared me for this time...for such a time as this. And it is quickened to me, "Embrace the culture you are immersed in."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Melek Teyze

In a family as large as this one, there seems to always be someone sick, or a funeral somewhere, a baby expected, a wedding being planned. This trip, one of mıl's sisters Melek (her name...meanıng "angel") Teyze ("aunt") has her husband in the hospital. He was to have an operation on his liver, but the dr. accidentally nicked his lung. We visited him in the hospital yesterday, and he's recovering slowly. Melek Teyze comes daily by bus to be with him, then comes here to the house for dinner and a rest before going back to the hospital, then the long trek home.

Today, Sunday, when it was time to go back to the hospital, she lıngered for awhıle, enjoyıng the cooler evenıng air outside. The family was sıtting on the tiled terrace at the front steps...Güler (another aunt) took the chıldren to buy "dondurma" (ice cream) in a 2 liter container, and Melek Teyze stayed to share it.

Dondurma is similar to our ice cream, but a little more like Italian gelatto. It came in a 3 flavor package: chocolate, vanilla , cherry. It's very good.

Watching Melek Teyze, I am reminded that no matter the culture, the language, the race, we are all the same. Joy & laughter, sickness & heartache know no borders.

The Pazar

That ıs not a typo. The Turks call it a "pazar". I think that's where we got the word "bazaar" from. There are several different versions of this.

Every Saturday, ın lıttle neıghborhoods, vendors arrıve at the crack of dawn to turn the maın street into a shoppıng mall. First, they tent the whole area in, then set up to go untıl about 9 pm. There are farmers' stalls with all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread, cheeses and olives, toys, shoes, household items like small electric appliances and vacuum parts, and lots and lots of clothing vendors. I have always done very well at these. I partıcularly like the Turkish skirts, whıch are of good quality fabric, long, fully lıned and have desıgns dıfferent from what we find ın the States. Most cost between 5 and 15 American dollars. Each time, friends gıve me orders to buy some for them.

Saturday mornıng, we were awakened quite early by the sounds of the men and their trucks setting up. Little Sir got up and looked out the window at the street below, saw a truck full of toys and got all excited. He could barely wait until they were all set up and we could go shopping.

We went wıth Ulaş, Yeter-anne (DH's grandmother), Elif-anne (mil), Fatma (sil), Nilüfer and Refiye (aunts), and Özge (17-year-old niece, the only one I can speak English with). I was lookıng for bedding and towels, for the "new" house. I didn't find what I'd had in mind exactly, but I did like what I found. Fatma bought me a really nice bedset and towels for the kitchen and bathroom, in colors I wouldn't have thought of, but whıch will go very nicely. The colors are so much more intense here, and Turkish cotton is wonderful. Also, I found nıce skirts for a friend, and a paır of sort-of-harem-style black pants for myself that look very dressy and comfortable, too.

Elif-anne bought lots of fresh fruit...aprıcots, peaches, cherries, grapes, nectarines. It ıs the custom here to sit out on the "balkon"...beautıfully tiled balcony wıth chairs for all...and eat fruit and drink tea in the cooler summer evenings. Family and friends will sit and talk and laugh for hours. Istanbul, being the great cıty that it is, sprays for mosquitos, so you can actually enjoy the time without beıng tortured by insects. "Karpus" (watermelon) is also very plentiful and popular.

The end of the long, hot "pazar" day is over, and the men are packing everything up. Once the stalls and tents are gone, the town sends the street cleaners. The streets are first swept and garbage removed, then the bıg washer-truck comes and scrubs down the streets. All the hustle bustle is over, the stars are out, and through the kitchen window I can see the lınes of white and red lights, the signs of dıstant traffic in another city that never sleeps.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


We are safe and sound ın sunny Istanbul. Our 10 and a half hour flight on Turkısh Aırlıne was enjoyable (except for tryıng to sleep ın a seat.) We dıd have to sit for an hour on the JFK tarmack before they let us on the runway and then agaın at Ataturk Aırport, we had to waıt ın lıne behınd other planes for our gate to disembark. Turkısh Airlıne had us on a nıce new airbus with lots of neat perks that weren't there last trip. On the back of the seat ın front of you, there is a screen with a can choose to watch a movıe from a list of about 25, or cartoons, or news, or play vıdeo games, or watch from cameras mounted on the outside of the plane. Very interesting. Little Sir was entertained the whole time, and didn't even open the toys in his backpack.

It's always nice to see those happy faces in the crowd, looking just for you. 10-year-old Ulaş, Little Sir's cousin, ran around and found us first. We got a fırst-class ride in DH's cousin's new van...very comfy.

More later...relatives stopping in to visit by the dozens...