Saturday, July 21, 2012

Home Again -- Part 1

This has been a difficult blog to write, as it’s hard to summarize 9.5 of the most amazing months of my life.  Since I’m a list maker, I thought it might be easiest to capture some of my thoughts and observations in that mode.  And since there is so much, I’ll probably have multiple parts.  So here's Part 1,  my Turkish Bucket List.

Ever since I visited Turkey (nearly 20 years ago!), I wanted to (in no particular order): 
  • Go to Pamukkale (an incredible ruin and natural wonder)
  • Go on a Blue Voyage (a one week experience on a “gullet” boat stopping at islands and bays in the Aegean) 
  • Visit Efes (or Ephesus, as we know it – one of the largest and most impressive ruins ever)
And here they are...

1) Pamukkale
Underwater ruins at Pamukkale
Unusual mineral formations at Pamukkale (this is NOT snow!)

2) Blue Voyage (see earlier post)

Life was hard on the Blue Voyage!  

3) Efes

An amazing city!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Blue Voyage

Deniz Gülü
Jeff Diving (5.5)
Ever since I heard of it, I have wanted to go on a Blue Voyage, or Mavi Yolculuk (as it is known in Turkish), and I promised myself that I would not leave Turkey without doing one.  To the best of my knowledge, this is something only possible in Turkey.  The idea is that you organize 6-10 of your very best (and very compatible) friends and hire a boat to take you for a week around the Aegean Sea going from island to island and cove to cove.  The crew fixes all the meals, and passengers are totally at leisure to do whatever they want.  As my days in Turkey started dwindling, I realized that we needed to do a Blue Voyage – even if no one could come from the US.  So, this week, complete with sunblock (50 strength), bathing suits, hats, and reading material, we flew down to Marmaris and  hopped aboard the Deniz Gülü with 5 strangers and 3 crew members. 
The 7 Voyageurs
Aegean Cove

Our first night was in port in Marmaris, and I must say that I began to wonder what we had gotten into at about 3:30 am when the disco music from the nearby bars was STILL PLAYING loud and strong.  And the cabin was definitely plus petit, with the bed being only slightly larger than the remaining part of the cabin.  In addition, I was unable to locate a shower in the little bathroom.  And then at 5am there was lots of commotion on board, waking us up and introducing us to the fact that every sneeze, snore, snicker, and step could be heard through the paper thin walls and ceiling.
Jeff Relaxing

Aegean Sea
At breakfast we met our fellow voyageurs: Gwen (a British lady) and Ron (Scottish) (the couple who came on board at 5am!), Gusty and Ida (German Swiss), and Tineke (Dutch).  We were all within the same age range, have grown children, and enjoyed many of the same things.  There was not a lingua franca between us, but Tineke spoke German as could Gwen, while Gusty, Ida, Tineke, and I could make do in French, and Tineke could speak English as well.  It made for some fun translations.

Whatever doubts I had the first night on board were totally dispelled that first day at sea.  The views of the islands from the boat, swimming in the clear blue Aegean, our new and extraordinarily compatible companions, and the simple but wholesome meals prepared by the young crew made me think that a week might even be too short!  

Rodos Statue
View From Above

A mention about meals… Breakfast was at 8am and consisted of: eggs of some variety, cheeses, olives (black and green), tomatoes and cucumbers, fresh bread (or at least fresh on the days we’re in a port), local honey and homemade jams, freshly squeezed OJ, and of course coffee and tea.  Lunch (around 12:30) was vegetarian: salad, some vegetable dish (on various days we’ve had eggplant and squash), rice, more fresh bread, and fresh fruit.  At 4:30 or 5 we had tea and biscuits (little cookies), then 7pm was the cocktail hour with nuts and olives.  Dinner was at 8pm: on the first night we had fresh grilled fish, but other nights it was chicken or meat, there was always salad, rice or pasta, vegetable, more bread, and fruit for dessert.  It sounds like a lot, but when you consider that there was no butter served with bread (except for breakfast), nothing was ever fried, the only salad dressing was a little lemon juice, and the only processed sugar was the teatime biscuits, it was actually very healthy.  Now we all had our special things that we like – Jeff and Ron requested butter with their noon and evening bread, and Ron liked his “Scottish salad” (potatoes!), but everyone seemed pretty satisfied with the galley’s efforts.
Rodos, Greece

Greek Town
Greek Church
Lest you think we were perfect angels – only eating a healthy Aegean diet, with some intermittent swimming and plenty of rest – I will confess that there was a bar on board.  On the first day I thought I had misunderstood when Gusty asked if I would like some wine (at 10:30am!).  He and Ida seem to enjoy a little bracer before the morning swim, and then the rest of the bottle with lunch.  Ron liked his morning beer, and all (except one) were known to indulge in wine at lunch.   I won’t even talk about the direction it went from there – but you’ll be proud to know that Jeff and I were on the lowest end of the consumption totem pole.

Our route took us from Marmaris to Kumlu Bay, Bozburun, Selimiye, Datça, Simi (in Greece), and Rodos (also in Greece).  There was a good mix of swimming in coves and shore time in great little towns.

Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Turkish Cuisine

Turks love to eat, and it’s slightly miraculous that neither Cef nor I have put on kilos, as Turkish food is really good.  Let me focus on dinner, as that’s the best.

More Cold Mezzeler
Cold Mezzeler
First, people don’t hit restaurants until about 8pm.  Dinner is a leisurely affair, and it lasts several hours.  If you’ve reserved a table, they assume that you’ll be there for the whole evening – no fast turnaround like in our restaurants!

It all starts with cold mezzeler – or small plates – that are usually ordered for the table so that everyone gets a spoonful or two.  My favorites are with eggplant, but there are truly all varieties and it’s worth it to get as many as you think you can taste.  A green salad (again for the table) is also usually served. 

More rakı
Rakı and Mezzeler
And I nearly forgot about beverages!  As they bring the first round of mezzeler, they also bring your choice of beer, wine, or (most typical) rakı.  Rakı is an anise flavored liquor that turns white when water is added.  It’s served in long narrow glasses, and the waiter makes a big production of pouring the rakı, pouring the water, and adding 1-2 ice cubes.  The founding father of the Turkish Republic (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk) was a huge rakı fan.  When alcohol was banned by the legislature in the early days of the Republic, Mustafa Kemal arranged for those legislators who voted for the ban not to be re-elected!

Shrimp (Hot Meze)
OK – time for the hot mezzeler.  These are little tidbits, like hot shrimp or small fried fish.  Best to go easy on these if you want to make the next course!

The main dish is usually a fish of some variety.  I usually let Cef go behind the scenes to pick out my fish, and they’re always fresh and delicious.  They are typically grilled or baked – I can’t ever remember having one fried or with any kind of sauce.

Now, if you have any room left (and it’s worth saving space!), comes the dessert.  There are all varieties (including French profiteroles, cheese cake, chocolate mousse), but my favorites are the classical Turkish ones.  These often include baklava like sweets dripping in honey-like syrup made with pistachios or other nuts and paper thin leaves of dough.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!  And of course it wouldn’t be a Turkish meal without a glass of çay – or Turkish tea – at the end.

Why there aren’t more Turkish restaurants in the United States, I’ll never know, as the food is amazing, reasonably healthy, and some of the best you’ll ever eat.

Cheers – or şerefe!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Van and Erciş

Earthquake damaged building
Many of you may recall the huge 7.2 earthquake that took place in Turkey on October 23rd.  This past week I visited Van and Erciş– the two cities that were hardest hit.  It seemed to me that there is both good news and bad. 

Lake Van
Earthquake damage
On the one hand, the area has amazing natural beauty.  There is a huge lake (Lake Van) that is light blue in color (kind of like Lake Louise in Canada) set against mountains that still have snow on their peaks. 

About 160,000 displaced people are being housed in 34 orderly and neat “Kontaynir Kentler” (Container Cities) where each of 21,000 containers has a bathroom, kitchen, 2 bedrooms, heat, and a satellite dish.  The drinking water is tested daily to insure that it is clean, and there are nurses and doctors who staff the Container Cities. 

Container child
On the other hand, imagine the difficulties of 6 or more people living in a small container that has 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen.  (You can do the math with 160,000 people and 21,000 containers).  Definitely not where you’d want to stay for very long, yet with 60% unemployment, containers may be the only option for some.

While the health and security needs seem to be taken care of, there was less attention to the mental health needs.  The psychiatrists that we spoke with were clearly burned out (and who wouldn’t be seeing 40 patients a day!).  They are assigned to this area for a 2 year stint to fulfill their national service obligation, and they are counting the days until they can leave.  Nurses and psychologists are a bit more permanent, so there may be some hope there, but everyone is demoralized.

Van Cat
Armenian Church
In addition to going to the Container Cities and talking with medical professionals, we also took time to see the famous Van cats -- famous because they are all white, have one blue and one green eye, and are sometimes deaf.  Many years ago we had such a cat in the US!  We also saw the Van lake fish (Pearl Mullet) which are the only variety of fish in the lake (due to the unusual natural chemical content of the lake).  We saw them migrating from the lake up a stream for spawning (just like our salmon do!).   And last, there is a beautiful little Armenian church on an island in the lake.

One can only hope that the resilience of these people and the beauty of the area will help the reconstruction efforts to make this province even better than before the earthquake.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fulbright Finale in Antalya

This past weekend all of the 2011-12 Turkish Fulbrighters gathered in Antalya (in the South of Turkey).  We were hosted by the Commission at the Pirate's Beach Club -- a beautiful resort on the Mediterranean.  As you can imagine, the theme for this place was pirates, so all of the staff were dressed in pirate attire.  There was even a one legged pirate and a one armed pirate (truly).  In addition to catching up with our "classmates," we were able to relax and reflect on our time in Turkey.  We even had a guest (Deputy Under Secretary from Department of State) who was a former Fulbrighter.  As well, there was an excursion to Olimpos (see pix) and another Greco-Roman site which was right by the Sea.  It was truly a fitting way to reconnect with some remarkable people in an amazing place.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Brig!

Brig the Frog
Brig and EK
Brig with patch
Brig and Eric
Dearest Brig
Belated happy birthday to my incredibly awesome grandson who is wise beyond his 9 years!  Your personal resolve never ceases to amaze me.  In the years that you wore your eye patch you never complained – even though I know it was uncomfortable and definitely not cool (after all, you can’t play pirates every day).  But then coolness has never been your concern, as you’d rather play in a chess tournament than a basketball game.  You’ve faced stitches and surgery – all with your typical bravery and stoicism.  And what a joy it is to see your art skills develop!  I will always think of you as my “reciprocal” grandson – because whenever I bring you a present you never fail to give me some small little gift in return.  Though you are often seen with your brother, you couldn't be more different.  How I wish I could show you Turkey and some of the sites I’ve seen this year.  Maybe one day when school’s not an issue I can kidnap you for a short trip.

With all my love,

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Intra-Urban Turkish Transport

Moving from one place to another is a real experience in Turkey.  In Ankara, transportation is actually pretty efficient and not very expensive.  Below is a brief summary of my experience with the major transport modalities in Ankara:

           Arabalar (Automobile)
Turks are normally very kind and sweet people – that is, until they get behind the wheel of a car.  And then they become extremely aggressive and impatient.  Drivers pay no attention whatsoever to lines marking lanes (there could easily be 4 cars abreast in a 2 lane road).  Forget pedestrian crosswalks -- drivers don’t even see them.  Traffic lights are frequently ignored – actually they’re not totally ignored, as a driver might give a short beep to let you know he’s running through a red light.  Which brings me to another thing.  The average Turkish driver is much more expressive than the average American driver -- beeping his or her horn at least 20 times a day.  Hard to imagine that last September I had actually thought we might buy a car for our 9 months here!

I wrote in my early days about riding the dolmuş, and having been a dolmuş regular now for over 7 months, I have accumulated quite a few more dolmuş experiences.  As you may recall, a dolmuş is a mini-bus that you can flag down and get on or off anywhere along the route.  The dolmuş actually becomes its own little social community.  For example, people with infirmities are sometimes helped on and off  (I was even helped on during an ice storm!), I have held small children on my lap when there were not enough seats, men (and sometimes even younger women) will usually give up their seat for older people (including me!).  Having said that, accepting a seat can be socially delicate.  One day on a very crowded dolmuş when I was still standing, someone vacated her seat to get off.  Another woman and I were standing next to the seat, so I motioned to her to take the seat (I thought she looked old!), and she motioned to me to take it (I guess she thought I looked older!).  We motioned back and forth a few more times, and I eventually won (because she took the seat).

Taksi (Taxi)
Every neighborhood has a taxi stand, so no one is more than about 3 blocks away from a taxi.  In addition, every 50 meters or so there is a call button mounted on a tree or post, so all you have to do is push it and a taxi will show up shortly.  Typically when we have to take an early morning taxi (like 4am!), we go to our stand the day before to make arrangements.  Invariably, we are invited in for çay (tea) while I try to explain in Turkish what time we need to leave.  All the taxis are metered, so it’s a pretty honest system.

      Otobüs (Bus)
We actually have a bus stop right outside our apartment, so it’s extremely convenient to take this bus to Kızılay (our favorite shopping and movie area) on Saturdays.  We’ve bought cards, so we just get them punched each time we take a ride.  As with the dolmuş, men are expected to give up their seats for ladies.

I have only ridden the metro once, so can’t speak with authority, but it was very efficient.  And, the very same pass you use on the bus works on the metro.  The only trouble is that the metro in Ankara doesn’t go very many places.

People walk a lot in Turkey!  And given the state of sidewalks which are frequently torn up or in disrepair, they have to walk in the streets.  That means that there is a lot of competition between pedestrians and motorized vehicles.  Needless to say, motorized vehicles usually exert stronger influence, but it’s a healthy competition!

These are very rare.  The only motorcycles I’ve ever seen are driven by the food delivery men like MacDonalds (yes, they deliver in Turkey) and Wienerwald (they deliver roasted chickens). 

There simply are none, or “yok” (as the Turks would say).  Clearly the pedestrians and the motorized vehicles have won out in Ankara, so there’s no space for bikes.