Last day of our tour of Turkey, Gazientep=baklava

On the bus yesterday, as we were nearing Gazientep, I remembered an article from the New York Times about Gazientep, but really about baklava. I had it in my trip envelope and read it again. It mentions watching the men make the baklava at one of the city’s most famous bakeries.

I showed the article to Kadir, just because I thought that he might be interested in another perspective. He read it, and said “would you like to see how baklava is made? ” of course, who wouldn’t? and he got on his phone and next thing I knew, he announced that our group was going in the morning to the Imam Cagdas baklava bakery to witness the process! Oh my, what excitement!!

So, right after breakfast ( I ate lightly), we headed towards the bakery. The bus could only take us part of the way since the streets get narrow. We walked through a rather quiet Gazientep and into the ” Lourdes” of baklava! 

Pilgrimage site for lovers of baklava

We were greeted by the owner who, as Kadir said, looked like a very modest old man in traditional turkish baggy pants, called shalvar, and simple shirt, well dusted with flour. He directed us to go up first one and then another flight of stairs. 

  We entered the bakery in the oven area, and felt assaulted by the heat. One man was manuvering rather small round aluminum pans in and out of a wood-burning oven and another was managing the hot syrup that he poured over the just baked baklava. We then entered a room with several tables where men were fitting filo dough into the pans. Again, it was hot. I was just dripping away standing in one place!They showed us how thin the dough was by draping it over our hands, I could see all the details of my ring through the dough!

In the next room, which was so hot and humid I thought I might expire. Men were taking lumps of dough and feeding them through a machine to flatten them, then the flattened dough went to individual men who rolled it with thin wooden rollers into impossibly sheer sheets of dough.  



(I don’t understand it, but my photoediting abilities have suddenly disappeared!  I can’t add captions or reduce the size of the photos. Oh well, last day of the trip, someting had to go wrong!)

As you can see, the process is very labor intensive, which accounts for the relatively highcost of good baklava. At the end of our tour, we were each handed a still warm square of deliciousness which we savored,or wolfed down as the case may be. Then we headed to the Zeugma Museum of Mosaics.

This new museum was built to house the mosaics from a Roman building which was going to be flooded by the creation of a new dam. The building is lovely, although I realized quickly when some groups of school kids showed up, the acoustics were not given much thought! It echos and sound reverberates very well. We all fled from the kids just so that we could hear each other talk!

In my opinion, the mosaics are not as fabulous as some I’ve seen. I even thought the Antakya Museum’s mosaics were more interesting. Except for the well presented portrait head of,maybe a young woman, or maybe not. It has lumious eyes and great details in the hair. 

We returned to the hotel for a brief visit, then we walked back to the baklava bakery and restaurant for a really delicious lunch topped off with , guess, baklava! this time we had Kadir’s favorite the “carrot” baklava so called because of it’s long triangular shape cut from a round pan. We all licked our fingers as we floated out of the restaurant for the second time today.

Then we walked through the market with Kadir as he pointed out interesting things and asked prices for us so we would know what was reasonable. I decided that I wanted a copper plate with tin coating, with patterns carved into it. I saw several and finally stopped at a small shop and talked, more or less, with the owner/craftsman. He ended up carving my name into the back of the plate for me.While he ws doing that, I looked around his tny shop and noticed some necklaces in a case. I asked to see them and ended up buying one of those too. Nice day!

We walked back to the hotel after cheking out a few more shops.. I collapsed for a while, took a shower, and got ready for our fare-well dinner. 

Group travel has it’s good and not so good aspects. Onthe good side, I know I see much more than I do on my own. I learn or have the opportunity to learn much more about a place than I probably could on my own. On the negative side, being with americans all the time is very separating from the environment. There is little need to learn even basic words in Turkish, although I have finally mastered “Thank you”, more or less. I’ve picked up a bit of menu Turkish and words for directions ( entrance and exit mostly). And a bit more, I suppose. 

Being so well taken care of turns even the most confident adult into a bit of a child. While the trip had some very full days ending with physical tiredness, it also has a relaxing quality because you have given over control of your days to someone else to plan, and plan well. I’m sure I’ll do group tours again, but not more than one a year. Bill and I have discussed other travel ideas including staying a while somewhere, maybe even here in Gazientep!

Tomorrow morning we fly to Istanbul, stay one night and get home on Saturday afternoon. It’s been wonderful and I’m looking forward to being home again.


Published in: on May 28, 2015 at 7:17 pm  Comments (4)  

We have a bit of an adventure, then visit a mosque during prayer and a few other things

Our day started with a pretty long bus ride, about 200+ kilometers from Kars to Erzurum. We spent the first hour and a half talking with Kadir about the role of religion in Turkey and elsewhere, and just gazing at the beautiful scenery.

Our first stop was at a 14thcentury stone bridge, still in  use, over a fast river. Then, just about  10 mins later,we pulled into a truck stop for a bathroom  break and a cup of tea. Kadir said we would be leaving again at 11:45 to continue our drive to Erzurum. Bill and I were enjoying a cup of tea, looking out of the lace curtained window of the tea shop at about 11:35 when we saw a bus backing away. We thought at first that it was a different bus (there were several there), but then realized it was our bus! Kadir thought that everyone was on the bus early and so told the  driver to leave! 

we looked out to see our bus leaving!

 We ran out to the front of the shop, but the bus was heading down the highway without us. I did have Kadir’s business card in my purse and a nice man who worked at the shop and saw what had happened, used his cell phone to call Kadir. “Salaam aleichem” I heard him say  first. Then he explained that two people were still there and Kadir asked to talk to us. He assured us that the bus would turn around the be back very quickly. We were laughing the whole time because we knew that it would be just fine, eventually! Kadir was so embarassed!  I think it was the first time he had left any of his travelers behind, and I’ll bet, the last time.

Back on the bus, Woody, who was sitting behind us, said that he was really sorry. He realized that we weren’t there but thought we had just relocated to a different part of the bus. No one expected to have left anyone behind. All was well and we watched a rather propagandist film about the life and times of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, on monitors in the bus. ( my first on-bus movie). He was undoubtedly a terrifically important man and left a great legacy, but the movie was more hagiography than straight biography. 

We arrived in Ezurum around 12:30 and entered a large, simple, stone mosque that was built in the 13th Century. Gigantic stone pillars held up a roof of stone and cedar wood. No ornamentation, no tiles or frescoed designs, just very strong architecture. We were allowed to observe a prayer session, my first in many visits to mosques, and I really understand more about Islam now. The rituals were both familiar and new. Many aspects of the style of prayer remind me of Jewish rituals. Standing silent prayer is a large part of the Islamic style of prayer, as it is in Judaism. Singing is done by the muezzin, much like a cantor in a synagogue. But, the muslim prays with his whole body performing a series of movements that use all of the limbs and the neck and head. The movements are repeated different times for the 5 times of prayer throughtout the day.  At one point, all the men gathered together, very close, shoulder to shoulder, and sat and then leaned forward to touch their forehead on the carpet, then sit back, then stand, and again several times. They moved almost as one person, the sense of becoming a community was very clearly the point of the togetherness. 

men at prayer in a mosque in Ezurum

 After the prayer session was over we toured around the large, thickly carpeted room looking at the original 13th century cedar ceiling in the main dome, and the  carved and inlaid wood of the raised platform where the muezzin,using a microphone, recited the prayers, all in Arabic. We also met the retiring muezzin who, Kadir told us, appreciated that people of other faiths visit the mosque to learn about Islam. He seemed very kind and I said, “Salaam alaichem” to him as we left,he touched his heart and said “Alachaim salaam” to me.


times of prayers for today in Ezurum


retiring muezzin

  After lunch we walked towards a kind of jewelry store complex specializing in items made of jet, which is found locally. It was in  a really old stone building with an open courtyard and an enclosed 2nd floor. I bought some old things, not made of jet. Old silver and stone earrings, maybe from the early 20th Cent.and a necklace, more tribal looking, maybe from Armenia. I’m happy with all of my purchases. On the way to the jewelry center, we encountered an elderly man dressed in bright colors with a big white beard and lots of military medals. He told us,through Kadir, that he was 86 years old and had served in the Turkish army in Korea, where he had met Americans also in the same situation. He was so friendly and allowed us to take his  picture.


courtyard with jewelry stores


Turkish war veteran , Ezurum

  Next was a former madrassa, now a museum of local culture. Another 13th Century stone building with carvings around the front entrance. Not to be blase, but it wasn’t the most interesting place.


foreign language school on the square in Ezurum

 We arrived at our hotel, a one-night stand, around 4:30 and I think most of us fell asleep for at least a little while. It’s a fancy, modern hotel built to serve the skiing slopes right next door. In the off season it hosts conferences and tour groups. Really nice decor, especially after our last place which was maybe 2 stars – this is clearly 5! The wifi works for one thing, in increasingly important amentity for most travelers now.

Tomorrow an early start and off to a monastery from the 4th century on the side of a cliff! Yikes. Ihave to “hike” again!  At least we will be at a significantly lower elevation, more like 2000 ft,rather than the 6000+ where we have been for the last few days.

Hope you had a good Sunday, too!


Published in: on May 17, 2015 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Turkish ghost town, from the 10th century. And lunch “at home” with a village family

The group got out of the hotel at 8am in order to be the first to arrive at Ani, a 10th century walled Armenian city that may once have been home to 100,000 people. Some areas have been reconstructed, but most is rubble, lots of stones. The building material is all local stone, in a lovely palette of tans, reddish browns and black. I really loved some of the walls, they are like paintings to me. ( I really thought of Sean Scully’s “Wall of Light” series) 

Wall (with reconstructions) at Ani

  Incredibly quiet, the sound of a horse neighing in a near-by field was the loudest thing I heard for a while. Ani feels like another world. We walked through the “Lion Gate”, named for a bas-relief of a lion high on the wall, and  then down what was a road, past a fallen minaret whose spiral steps remained mostly intact while the column lay on it’s side. I learned that the city, founded in the 10th century, was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1319. Some people persisted in living there for another few hundred years, then it was largely abandoned by the 17th century. The site is right on the border with Armenia- just across the river, easy to see and even hear a tractor working at an Armenian army camp. Due to that sensitive location, few visitors came there. Until about 10 years ago, the Turkish military required special permits to visit and did not allow photography. The place is so photogenic that I wonder if anyone has done a real survey of it’s potential as a artistic project.  
There is one structure, built originally as a mosque, one of the earliest in Turkey. In the early centuries after the Seljuk invasion as Islam became the predominat faith, most mosques were converted churches. This place, built as is everything, of local stone, is right on the edge of a cliff and it’s open arches frame magnificiant views down to the curving river below and across to Armenia. 


Mosque in Ani


River, from the mosque. Border with Armenia

 Next, we walked down some recently constructed stone stairs to one of the many churches that once existed in Ani. Only 2 remain even partially intact. This one, the cathedral, built in the 10th century as an Armenian christian structure, then used as a mosque, lost it’s dome in the earthquake of 1319,but otherwise was in reasonably good shape, with some fresco remnants still visible. The scale was hard to grasp, it must have been 60 feet or more to the ceiling.  

the old cathedral at Ani


Bill in the Cathedral,view through a doorway


fresco in the cathdral 9th century

 Walking back  to the bus, along paths bordered by brilliant spring green grasses where hundreds of buildings once stood, I thought about Pompei. I suspect that this may be what that felt like before most of the buildings were uncovered and reconstructed, and before it was such a popular tourist destination. The quiet, the sense of it’s being a closely-held secret added to the magic of the place.There was a sign that said,”Silk Road” with an arrow pointing toward the river. Yes, we are right around the famous Silk Road, at least one part of it. That’s another trip, but I do want to see the other end of the Road! 

Yep,just across the river and over the hill

 Back on the bus for a short toilet stop at our hotel and then on to lunch at a private home in a small village about 20 mins from  Kars (by bus).The village homes were very old stone buildings with barns and out-buildings and lots of animals.

We were divided into 2 groups and we met our lunch hosts. My group went to the home of Saban and Chagan( don’t ask about pronunciation!).   We followed them to the door, and removed our shoes before entering their very clean well furnished home. The guests sat in rather elegantly upholstered chairs and a couch where place settings had been set around a large low table. Kadir,our guide was with us at first and helped to make introductions. There were 5 members of the family present, including the young brother-in-law(14 yr old) of the oldest daughter ( 19) who was not there. The younger daughter ( 13) helped her mother serve our lunch and tried a bit of English with us. The food was very good, a kind of yogurt soup with fresh greens and rice, then a stew of vegetable served with bulgar. And some not too sweet cake with tea.

our lunch hosts in their home


entrance to our lunch host’s home


13 yr old daughter of our hosts


the rest of the family,with puppies

 We traded photos of families, I drew a rough map of the US and pointed out where each of us was from. Somehow we managed to have a conversation for about an hour. Then Kadir was at the window telling us it was timeto get back on the bus.

Another bathroom stop at the hotel and then a walk into downtown Kars to check out the sights.Bill and I decided to peel off and explore on our own.  First stop was an outdoor tea shop where I was the only female. Men of all ages were drinking tea,smoking,talking, playing backgammon. I took some photos of people,and then the waiter pantomimed taking our photo,so I couldn’t say no!  An elderly man, slowly came down the 2 steps to the cafe from the sidewalk. He looked around and sat at a table already occupied by one young man with a computer. He tried to talk to the guy, I think aiming  for some lira. He had a wonderful weathered face. I smiled at him,andhe got up and moved to our table. I asked the waiter to bring him  some tea, on me. We were finished with our own, but the man wanted to tell us about the injury to  his hand, or maybe his head. In any case, we needed to move one. But I hope we made the old guy a little bit happier this afternoon.   

old guy at the cafe ,downtown Kars


Bill and me having our tea


campaign bus with loud speakers

 The political campaigns run buses all over town, with music and slogans blaring out incredibly loud. In downtown Kars, streets were festooned with balloons and pennants advertising different candidates. It was Saturday afternoon and lots of people were out shopping and greeting each other. A very lively scene.

This was a terrific day, capped off by a dinner featuring roast local goose served shredded over bulgar. Pretty tasty! Tomorrow we leave Kars for Erzurum, and our onenight stay at a  ski-resort! Should be fun.

More tomorrow,inshallah.


Published in: on May 16, 2015 at 6:10 pm  Comments (2)  

Off to a very early start, then Van

When the alarm goes off at 3:20 am you know the day will be long. We were out of our hotel , walking down the nearly deserted Istiklal Cadessi at 4:30 heading for a small bus that took us to the airport for our 6:45 am flight from Istanbul to Van.

Who would think that a flight early on a Wed. morning to a regional capital would be packed? Bill and I ended up in middle seats for the 1 3/4 hour flight, but we both survived. We did not head for a hotel But rather for a ferry boat that deposited us on Akdamar Island where our focus was a 10th century church which has some of the most glorius stone carvings I’ve seen.  

David and Goliath

A Turkish bird, perhaps responsible for naming turkeys in the New World

The building is small, with a dome and not much else. It has remnants of frescos from the 10th and 11th centuries, but they are in poor condition due to both neglect and intentional damage over the centuries of changing religious affiliations in the area.

The island is in Lake Van, perhaps a caldera since there are several volcanoes in the area. It is very large and very deep. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the view of snow-capped mountains all around, seen from the boat, from the island and later from an archaeological site. 

snow capped mountains from Akdamar Island

The day had started chilly in Van,and on the boat, but it warmed up to the high 60’s by afternoon, making the snow all the more memorable. Some hardy folks, including Bill of course, hiked up to the top of the island. Not on a real trail, just following goat trails where they could find them, I heard. Quite a few of us stayed at a small cafe and drank some tea and chatted about the world.

We reboarded the boat and headed back to the mainland where we had a lovely lunch looking out over the lake. Not a bad life! On the bus we tried to nap, but the anticipated next stop came up more quickly than expected due to light traffic. We went to meet the “Last Urartuian” and see an ancient Urartu fortress from the 8th Century BC.

The big white Mercedes- Benz tour bus, driven by Omer, pulled off of a main highway( apparently the route to the Iranian border) onto very narrow road that let up a hill. He parked the bus and we piled out and hiked up to a spot where there were neatly carved blocks of gray stone laid in wall formation. Soon a small elderly looking man appeared carrying a kind of messenger bag. He was  man who knows how to read and pronounce and write in the Urartuian cuneiform language. He worked along side the archaeologists who have uncovered this site which includes deep storage cylinders buried for over 2500 years ( he showed us some of the grains of wheat found in one of the cylinders. They have since been filled with dirt to protect them. There is also the site of a temple, an altar and a stone with a hole in the middle and a channel running out of it down the hill where animals were sacrificed to the Urartrian gods. We climbed around and marveled at the workmanship of the stone masons and at the views of the snowy mountains. The sounds of sheep bleating and occasional shouts from shepherds wafted up from the valley floor hundreds of feet below us. The sky was blue, the sheep had lots of fresh green grass to eat and it wasn’t so hard to imagine people living up on the ridge where the temple stood, seeing just about the same sights we saw this afternoon.

When we finished looking around and made our way to the bus, the man had set up a table to sell his stone carvings with cuneiform words and some pictures of gods. Or, carvings of cats! Bill and I each bought a disk shaped carving with cuneiform writing and other symbols. It felt good to buy them directly from the man who made them and who was assisted in the sales work by one of his sons ( he has 11 children, 6 boys and 5 girls).

The “Last Urartian” selling his carvings

  We arrived at our next hotel, in downtown Van ( pop. about 500,000) and collapsed on the bed until dinner.

Tomorrow we will see more of the City and another ancient site. And we may just be around when the Prime Minister, Erdogan, makes a campaign stop in Van tomorrow afternoon. More to come.


Published in: on May 13, 2015 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  

Two days to remember, but will I ?

My friend Susan BW commented just today that she was impressed that I had the energy to write after a full day of sightseeing. Well, I didn’t have that burst of energy yesterday and I fell down on the job.

Today was the first day of the OAT tour of Eastern Turkey and, after a late dinner yesterday which had followed a very late lunch, I was just a bit anxious about getting up at 7am for the first time in a long time.

Yesterday we finally got to Topkapi Palace, one of the “must see” spots in Istanbul. Our OAT guide, who we met  at breakfast, suggested going in the early afternoon after the groups from the cruise ships leave. That wasn’t a hardship for us. We spent the morning finishing up blog posts, returning some emails and before we knew it, it was noon.

By now we knew the way to get down to the tram, by the funicular just 2 blocks away, so down we went feeling like know-it-alls. We crossed a crazy busy street and got on the tram, then got off and walked up the hill to the entrance to the Topkapi Palace complex. The way up was steep at times, but then the park-like area with lovely green lawns and trees surrounded by enormous stone walls was welcoming.

We saw the ticket sales booth and got in line,not bad lines at all,just a few minutes. But then Haroun got to us. He  is a licensed tour guide, wearing his official badge, and is a great salesman. He proposed guiding us for 1 1/2 hours through the Haram area and other areas of the complex for what seemed like more than we should pay. I thanked him and said no. He went away for a bit, then as we got closer to the ticket buying spot, he reappeared and knocked 200 TL off of his price. OK, sold! We agreed to meet him at the entrance to the Haram in about 30 mins, giving us time to visit the kitchens and get oriented to the place.

The kitchens were a disappointment, at least to  me. I had expected to see what kitchens looked like at the time Topkai was functioning as the home to several hundred people, maybe more. Instead, it was a huge open-space occupying what had been kitchens, and now contained large glass cases with lovely Chinese porcelain and gold-plated copper serving pieces and other ephemera of the serving of food to very rich people. Ho Hum for the most part.

We did meet up with Haroun and the 2 other couples he had  recruited. The most interesting aspect of the tour was his rather passionate effort to dispel the idea that a Haram was a place of licentious behavior. Haram means forbidden, yes, but it refers to the laws of Islam regarding men and women. Men are forbidden from interacting with women they are not married to. To provide protection and assistance to the women of the Sultan’s family, eunuchs from Sudan lived with the women in their quarters. The Sultan was in theory ,allowed to have as many ad 4 wives, but the custom of the community was that a man must get approval from his first wife to marry another. So, in practice even Sultan’s were constrained in their sex lives. Yes, there were concubines and Haroun’s explanation that they were women captured in battle and converted to Islam and then trained to work in the royal household and who sometimes became wives of Sultans or other high status men left both Bill and me wishing we had access to Wikipedia, but we still haven’t checked it out to our satisfaction.

Haroun ushered us around the rest of the Haram area, and then the rest of what was open, ie not under restoration. While the rooms were often grand, and without a quibble have the most magnificent vistas out over Istanbul and the water which surrounds it, there isn’t enough there. The basic structures were decorated in the Islamic style of the 15th and 16th centuries, with gorgeous tile work, but then were overlaid with “French” decoration that was in such contrast to the original style that it felt un-natural and strange. The rooms were mostly unfurnished, with some having low cushions along the walls and perhaps a metal brazier in the center. It was hard to imagine life in those rooms to be honest. 

I”m not saying that it wasn’t worth going to see it all, it certainly was. I just left feeling that it could be much more interesting, both visually and historically. 

 It’s nearly 9:30 pm and we have to be up at 3:30 to catch a flight at 6:45 to Van. Today was busy, we walked a lot, one woman had her purse stolen in a restaurant, but was able to get  a replacement passport by the end of the day at the American consulate here ( Yeah!)  We saw the Sulimanyea Mosque, returned to the Chora Museum, toured a giant cistern held up by hundreds of salvaged marble columms, and finally explored the Hagia Sophia Church- Mosque- Museum. I may or may not go into more detail in another posting. Depends of time. The demands of a tour are so different from traveling on one’s own. I’ll still do my best to record my experience, with or without photos.

off to bed, 


Published in: on May 12, 2015 at 6:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Theme of the day: Talk to strangers- but be wary of taxi drivers

Beautiful clear crispy morning in Istanbul. After a bit of a late breakfast and some housekeeping chores, we headed out for 2 spots, first the Istanbul Modern Art Museum and then the Chora Chapel or Kariye Museum.

The Modern Art Museum is almost directly downhill from our hotel, we realized later that we can see a part of the neon rainbow-like sculpture from our window. So, down hill we went, past a wedding party entering a venue where we could hear an opera singer warming up in the courtyard, past shops and cafes and families strolling down the steep unevenly paved streets like they were up on Istiklal ( a pretty darn flat, mostly well surfaced mostly pedestrian shopping street where our hotel is located). Me, I tread cautiously fearful for a trip that sends me flying with a broken arm or worse! So I descend more slowly.

We found the correct alleyway that led into the parking lot and the Museum which is in a former warehouse right on the waterfront. We walked up the entrance steps and at the ticket desk were informed that women were free today! How nice!

The space is open and bright, with windows that allow the light of the Bosphorus into the museum. We looked at paintings by artists from all over,including a favorite artist of mine, Mark Bradford of LA. There were video pieces, a wonderful sculpture consisting of chairs, suitcases(one side of each case painted gold) and magnifying glasses on stands. All the cases and magnifiers were on wheels and could be re-arranged by viewers. We discovered the poem on a nearby wall that was the source of the physical images. Very moving when we put them all together in our head.
Art is good but it was a gorgeous day and the Museum has a restaurant with tables on a terrace right on the water, with nothing in the way of observing the constant water traffic. We were drawn to that, along with lots of others. Standing around, enjoying the view but not seeing any empty tables, we were not sure what to do. Going inside was not appealing. Then a cheerful wave from a couple offering to share their waterfront table real estate.
So, we sat down and introduced ourselves and they did the same. Naturally by now I’ve forgotten their names, but they were from Dublin visiting Istanbul for 4 nights. He was a chatty guy who had stories of meeting “Billy” Gates at a conference in Seattle, of EU meetings all over the place. He has family in Portland, OR as well as England( their daughter is a dancer/choreographer in Newcastle). She is a retired teacher who now works part-time in an art gallery. We had a lovely time watching as two gigantic cruise ships came around the tip of Istanbul and settled themselves on either side of the Museum’s waterfront.Much better entertainment than available in most other restaurants!
After we tore ourselves away from the scene, we found our way to the lower level of the Museum where there were some special exhibits, one of a Turkish painter named Mehmet Guleryuz ( sorry to leave out the umlauts) and one of contact sheets of photos by members of the Magnum group of photojournalists from the 1940’s through the 2000’s. The idea was to show how carefully they edited their images and chose the most powerful ones. In many instances the photos they chose became iconic images that represent events, people and places to millions of people who have viewed them. From the Normandy invasion, to Tianamen Square’s man facing the tanks, to a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, images affect how we understand and remember events and history.I was reminded of the importance of visual images and of how they linger in our minds. Seeing the images from Tianamen Square immediately brought me back to the moment and to the emotions.
We left the Modern Museum and headed to another Museum, this one of Byzantine art. Both Catherine and Teresa had highly recommended the Chora Church also the Kariye Museum which is located in a non-touristy neighborhood. We caught a tram near the Museum and got off across the Golden Horn, also known as the Halic.We found our way to the local bus depot and looked for a bus with the number noted in our Istanbul guidebook. Not nearly as hard to figure out as I’d feared.We were on the bus and heading out in the general direction( I did ask the driver, more or less, by showing him the map of where we wanted to go). Bill followed our progress by referring to some landmarks like a complex of 4 parks and some other government buildings and finally a stadium. We left the bus and walked a few blocks in a residential area to the Kariye Museum. It’s a rather small place, surrounded by what I assume are more typical Turkish houses with carved wooded trim and painted in bright colors. Part of the Museum is undergoing restoration and is closed off, but most is open. There are frescos and mosiacs, all from around 1340-1375. It was converted into a mosque in 1511 but they did not destroy the christian art, just covered it over with wooden panels.
The bookshop sold large, heavy books with lovely pictures and comprehensive descriptions and interpretations of the work in this place and in Hagia Sophia. No small, light guides were available.
We started to look up at the frescos in one long section of the church which ended in an apse or rounded, domed area when I overheard an American voice speaking with passion and confidence about the symbolism of some of the images on the walls and ceiling. I moved a bit closer to the young man and young woman to over hear, just a bit. Finally I said, “You seem very knowledgable, do you mind if I listen in?” They didn’t mind at all and we struck up a relationship on the spot. He was Evan and his friend was Emilene and they had met at college in Michigan.Evan was in Turkey as a Fulbright Fellow, teaching English to students at a regional college in Tokat, a rather remote small city.
Emilene had moved New York after college and had a job doing social media work. She decided to come and visit Evan just last week! They had met in the Honors program at Hillsdale College which had taken the group to Turkey for several weeks in the last year of college. He has been interested in religious iconography for several years and has been to the Chora a few times already. We enjoyed his commentary and I was even able to bring in some art observations to the discussion. The mosaics are extraordinary, with two types of tiles used, both a matte texture and shiny. The shiny tiles are set unevenly, to bring out their reflective qualities and are used to outline shapes, like drapery on a figure. Very fine, tiny tiles allow for exquisite definition of features on faces as well as shading of trees and architecture. The trees reminded me of the shimmering mosiacs I had seen in the Umayed Mosque in Aleppo in 2011, since damaged in the terrible war there.
The museum was about to close and we followed Evan to a small artisan’s shop where there are miniature like paintings of both Istanbul and other images. I was ready for some tea and a snack at one of the outdoor cafes in front of the museum and we offered to take Evan and Emmilene too. We sat at a table and chatted for another hour, then said our good byes.
Bill and I caught a taxi on the Main Street and headed back to our hotel for a break before dinner. The taxi driver did not speak any English and when we asked him about how much it would be to go to near our hotel, he said something about 20, but it wasn’t clear. At first we didn’t see a meter, but later I realized that there was a meter showing up in the rear-view mirror! It showed a changing number as we sped,or not, along the streets, across a bridge, up the hill and, after asking at least 5 different times for directions, to the street nearest our hotel. As we got out, Bill handed him a 20 TL note, since the meter said something like 17TL. The driver was angry, demanding more, and talking faster and louder all the time.Finally Bill gave him another 20TL and we left the taxi, with the driver still mad. I don’t think we did wrong, I think he was trying to take advantage of us a tourists, expecting to get 20euros out of us.
After a bit of relaxing we managed to find our way to one of the restaurants we had eaten at on Friday’s culinary tour. It was called Vasta and featured specialties from Antakya, one of the cities on our tour, towards the end, near Syria.
I was too tired last night to write, and chose instead to take a melatonin and try to get to sleep earlier. I find that my daily writing takes at least an hour, what with downloading photos and all. I hope I am not writing more than anyone else wants to read, but I like to write what I’m thinking- at least for myself to read later.
So, yesterday’s news today!
We met our tour guide, Kadir, at breakfast this morning. We changed rooms, no view but more space and on the tour’s dollar rather than ours. Tomorrow we meet in the lobby at 8:30 AFTER BREAKFAST, a big change for us! We have been enjoying our rather lazy mornings up till now! No more of that, we must get to work and be solid citizens of the OAT tour group!

morning from our hotel room

morning from our hotel room

Istanbul Modern Art Museum

Istanbul Modern Art Museum

lunch companions at the Museum cafe

lunch companions at the Museum cafe

cruise ship heading straight for us!

cruise ship heading straight for us!

books hanging from the ceiling in the Modern Museum

books hanging from the ceiling in the Modern Museum

Mosaic in the Chora church

Mosaic in the Chora church

frescos- love the robe patterns!

frescos- love the robe patterns!

taxi driver who got mad, later.

taxi driver who got mad, later.

Published in: on May 11, 2015 at 9:03 am  Comments (4)  

The Bazaar Day in Istanbul

When we met up with Catherine Bayar and Therese on Thursday, I asked Catherine about taking us to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market as well as the Rustem Pasha Mosque, all near each other across the bridge from Beyoglu to the south, in the Fatih district. She knows which merchants sell authentic goods whether antiques , silks or hand embroidery.  We made a plan to meet this morning at a tram stop near the Grand Bazaar.

Our trip started out with a ride on an underground funicular that goes from near the Galata tower, the tallest thing on the Istanbul skyline, to the lowest part of the district where one picks up the tram to cross the bridge over the Golden Horn. What a funny vehicle that funicular is- one car only, it goes just back and forth up and down the hill but completely inside the hill itself. The poor driver never gets to see the day!

We made it to the tram and to our meeting spot in less time than we had allowed, so we were able to engage in some nice people watching. Saturdays are cruise-ship port days and we could see lots of foreign tourists heading in the direction of the bazaar. Catherine met us and we started our walk. First she suggested we see the exhibits of Turkish-made contemporary jewelry and clothing at a rather new store that was started by a Turkish couple who want to make the crafts of their country better known and respected in the world of high fashion and high prices! The building also contains a lovely restaurant where we decided to have our lunch.
The ground floor of the elegant new building where a doorman ushers you in, contains the jewelry cases. I was very very impressed with the design and craftsmanship that I saw there. Gold with diamonds and emeralds in shapes that echoed nature but improved upon it.I even tried on two gold necklaces, but didn’t buy.
Upstairs were textiles- dresses, jackets, robes all of locally made silk, wool and cotton with textures and colors and trims that reminded me of the most elegant of the outfits in Downton Abbey. Really dreamy. And little girls dresses, onlyTL750, or about $250. To be worn once, most likely. But beautifully!
Lunch was on a covered terrace with excellent food and service. We were now ready to tackle the Grand Bazaar.
What a different shopping experience!!From the calm, nearly empty spaces of the elegant crafts displays to the incredibly crowded, noisy, brilliantly lit hallways of the 600 year old Bazaar. My experience of souks or bazaars was mostly positive, I enjoyed the adventure of navigating through the crowd to find something special. This bazaar is huge, and it was Saturday the most crowded day.This was a daunting scene and without Catherine’s knowledge of where to go, I would have given up quickly. This bazaar’s original organization of similar goods in an area has been breaking down as more tee shirt shops and other re-sellers of cheap goods ( most from China and India-Pakistan) flood the market bringing down prices of locally produced items.Where there was once a hallway of all leather goods dealers, now there is a leather store, then a athletic shoe store, and a tee shirt shop, then another leather store. Or antiques from Russia, Turkey and the Caucasus regions next to a booth selling imitation gold jewelry.
I did see some amazing old Russian icons of St. George, painted on wood more than 100 years ago, and a “traveling icon” of brass with figures softened by many years of touching by generations of hands.
Finally I asked Catherine about scarves,my main weakness and among the easiest of purchases to pack. We went to her “scarf guy”. I was only interested in Turkish made silk scarves of a thinner rather than thicker texture. He brought out a stack of colorful, soft silks. I looked through them and chose 3. As he was wrapping them, Catherine was looking at another one, with a caligraphy pattern that I had admired, but put aside in favor of another. As she held it out, I realized that I wanted it too! she didn’t mind my buying it as she can always return ( she is there about once a week with clients).So I ended up with 4 turkish silk scarves, each one a beauty.
Next we went to look at suzanis, the appliqued textiles often used as bedcovers or table covers. The sizes were not right for me, but I did find embroidered panels, silk on a cotton and silk fabric that will make lovely new pillows for the guest room, someday when I can find my sewing machine again! The patterns are so lovely, and the handwork so excellent that I can’t wait to get them made up.
Now we headed to the Spice Market, through the most dense crowds I think I have ever encountered. It was Saturday afternoon and everyone had business to transact. The steeply angled cobblestone streets that led from the Grand Bazaar down to the Spice or Egyptian market went past shops selling just about everything anyone could possibly need, and more. Wedding dresses, lingerie, just socks, hardware, shoes, gift wrappings and party goods, everything except food. Well,ice cream and simic rolls are everywhere. But not the ingredients for dinner.
My energy level was heading down with the slope of the street.In the Spice Market Catherine directed us to one particular vendor, a shop run by a woman, 5th generation in her family to manage the business. She gave me samples of many different spice mixes that her shop prepares and I bought 2 of them. One is a ” salad spice” mix that, with olive oil, will be my new favorite salad topping. Lots of sumac powder give it a lemony taste along with other flavors. Yum!
We paused for a bit with some tea at a cafe in a courtyard outside the market.Turkish tea is drunk with some sugar but no milk and does a good job of refreshing the weary shopper. More good people watching there, too. Good conversation with Catherine covering topics from the increasing number of young turkish women adopting the conservative hijab of the Middle East, to contraception and abortion rights in Turkey, to the personal. Then off to the Rushtan Pasha mosque a small but lovely mosque very near the water. Blue and white tiles in various patterns adorn the walls, a huge metal ring supported from the ceiling by metal rods holds glass jar shapes which must have originally held candles. They now contain compact flourescent bulbs which were not turned on yet, thank heaven! the prayer room was very calm and lovely, a nice place to end our tour.
Catherine walked with us to the waterfront and pointed us to the metro which runs on a bridge across the Golden Horn and right into the heart of the Beyoglu district very near our hotel. We took her advice and found our way home with little difficulty.
The crowds on Istiklal Caddesi were nearly as dense as in the Bazaar. Musicians were playing to crowds for tips in several locations not far from each other, but the density of the on-lookers kept the music from one group interfering with another, or so it seemed. I glanced over one crowd to see men in “Native-american”-like costumes playing music that sounded nothing like any Native American music I’ve ever heard! the guys looked like Andean indians, rather than North American people, but who knows? the music was fun and people were enjoying the opportunity have themselves photographed next to the colorfully dressed musicians. My camera battery had just died so I have no photos of them! Bill does, at his
Tomorrow we may go to the Modern art museum near the water and then to some of the best Byzantine mosiacs around on the other side of the Golden Horn again. or maybe something else will come up, who knows?
I’m sure it will be an interesting day in Istanbul.

Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Technical difficulties

The last post, as readers may have noticed, ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence. I actually wrote a great deal more, but it vanished into the ethernet or whatever the right term is. Bill has tried valiantly to rediscover that writing section,but to no avail.
This has happened before, and it is so frustrating.
I’ll summarize the rest of our walking and eating tour.

First stop was another take on Turkish breakfast, traditional style. Simic, or turkish bagels ( ubiquitous breads seen at stands everywhere), tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives and eggs cooked with onions and peppers. And tea in small glasses.
Ipek also had us taste an unusual turkish dessert called Chicken Breast Pudding. Actually made with cooked and pounded chicken which gives it a thready texture but no chicken-y flavor.
Our little damp group continued to 6 or 7 more stops, including walking through several “passages” or european-style enclosed courtyards with bars and restaurants filling the spaces. We had food from the Black Sea region ( lots of corn based food), from the south of Turkey ( Antakya style kibbe which was ground and seasoned meat in a log shape covered with a kind of light breading and friend crisp). We had several kinds of very sweet treats including pumpkin cooked in sugar until nearly translucent and quince cooked in a similar way and topped with super fresh clotted cream. And, of course, “Turkish Delight” known locally as Locoum in several flavors including the classic rosewater.
One memorable stop was at a butcher shop specializing in all things lamb. There we saw a tray of freshly roasted lambs heads and watched while one was decomposed into bite sized morsels of brain, tongue, cheeks and who knows what else. Bill enjoyed it, I just couldn’t do it. We were told that lambs head was a popular snack with a beer at a cafe next door to the butcher shop. You just ask for one and they bring it to you. There were also a couple of very nicely fed cats who seemed to protect their turf from other envious felines.
There are a lot of cats in Istanbul, and many look to be well taken care of. Dogs, too, are calmly hanging around, looking comfortable if not terribly interested in the parade of humans walking past.
We returned to our hotel and collapsed for several hours. Venturing out around 8:30, we landed at a simple place that had taken over about 5 different restaurants. They had one central kitchen. The food was fine, nothing special. But it was just right for the end of a food-centric day.
Today we head to the Bazaar district with Catherine Bayar for a half day or so of touring and some eating.
More later, inshallah!

Published in: on May 9, 2015 at 8:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Day 2, all the food you could imagine!-something happened to the rest of my post! I’ll re-do it in the morning!!

Ipek, our guide to the foods of Istanbul

Ipek, our guide to the foods of Istanbul

Ataturk on a sign for the Nevizade  street of small food shops

Ataturk on a sign for the Nevizade street of small food shops

lovely brass hood over the charcoal where delicious kebabs are cooked to order

lovely brass hood over the charcoal where delicious kebabs are cooked to order

fresh roasted lamb heads, when cut up,are great with a beer!

fresh roasted lamb heads, when cut up,are great with a beer!

butcher shop specializing in lamb parts

butcher shop specializing in lamb parts

the master coffee maker with his samovar

the master coffee maker with his samovar

Based on the enthusiastic recommendation of my friend Hilda Scheib, Bill and I booked a walking/eating tour of the Beyoglu district with Culinary Backstreets. They have similar tours in several other neighborhoods in Istanbul as well as in other cities around the world. Looking at a map while still a

inside the

inside the “flower passage”, before the cafes were open

t home, the meeting point appeared to me not very far from our hotel, so we planned about 15 minutes to get there. That heavy rain that started last night continued on into the morning. At 9ish when we needed to leave, it was really steady and still heavy. I had not brought an umbrella this trip, figuring that a hooded rain-resistant parka would be enough. Bill did bring an umbrella, but we discovered last night that it was broken. So, we headed out down Isticklal Caddesi, turning off of the pedestrian shopping street into a narrow steeply pitched street with a brick center and a variety of “sidewalks” on either side. It was pouring rain, making walking a bit more of an adventure as small rivers formed in the street and sidewalks and gutters. We walked down on street, up another, around a corner, up a flight of steps and there we were , thoroughly soaked through from head to foot. Sigh.

Our guide spotted us right away and waved to us from across the street. She had an umbrella and looked well coiffed and dry. My hair was soaking wet, hanging in unlovely strands around my damp face. Not my finest

Published in: on May 8, 2015 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

First views of Istanbul

While I do recommend flying non-stop on Turkish Air from San Francisco to Istanbul, the 12 1/2 hours plus about an hour of delays  meant more than 13 hours in the airplane seat, never a good way to spend a day! Still, the thrill of being nearly half way around the world in such an amazingly short time eventually wins over my reluctance to be uncomfortable. It sure beat the Emirates flight to Dubai last year! That was way more uncomfortable, even if the movie selection was  far superior!

Theresa shows off her felt work

Theresa shows off her felt work


Theresa’s work table

We took a taxi to our hotel in the Beyoglu district, which included several stops to ask directions. When we finally arrived,  we discovered that the hotel is located on a pedestrian street, not a typical hotel location. The driver was persistent about asking and apologized for not being able to take us all the way to the door of the hotel. We managed to pull our

inside Blue Mosque

inside Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque and minaret

Blue Mosque and minaret

Bill the photog

Bill the photog

Palace on the water

Palace on the water

lots of water-craft on the sea this afternoon

lots of water-craft on the sea this afternoon

bags the last 100 feet, tired as we were!

We had opted for the “deluxe” room with a view out to the Bosphorus. I had hoped that this would mean a slightly nicer room along with the view. The room is nice enough, just kind of small. It has everything we need ( except for the sink drain that does not close).And the view is really a nice addition.

Our first dinner in Istanbul was at the restaurant in the hotel,but not “of” the hotel as the front desk man made sure to inform us.The restaurant is on the 6th floor, with huge windows framing a spectacular view out to the water and across to Asia. The food was upscale, but still not terribly expensive.We opted for sevarl mezes, cold and hot, instead of main courses. We had some fried small fish from the local waters, some mussels and clams, tiny rolls of eggplant stuffed with red pepper and walnuts and filo with “wild aegean  (vegetables) , perhaps nettles?. And hummus and some other stuff. And a huge poached pear for dessert to share. After the long long day, it was all wonderful.

Today we had a leisurely wake-up, found the sunny breakfast room on the 7th floor( not as good a view as the 6th floor restaurant, I should add). Quite a spread, so I had to try a whole bunch of stuff. Tomorrow will be quite different as we need to meet up with a walking/eating tour of this neighborhood, Beyoglu at 9:30am.

After breakfast a short siesta was in order to allow for digestion, given all that I’d put my body through in the past 24 hours a bit of kindness did not seem out of line, and we had no where to be, not really.

I had made a connection with an American woman, Catherine Bayar, who lives in Istanbul. She is a friend of a friend in San Francisco, Kim Smith. We met once, maybe 5 or 6 years ago. Kim kindly re-connected us. Catherine suggested that we meet at the shop/workshop of her friend Theresa, who is an accomplished felt maker and textile producer. She has been living in Istanbul for about 6 years with Mehmet  who is a famous figure in the world of traditional felt making. They work and live in a sunny, crowded store in the Sultanhamet district, not far from a tram line. We arrived around 11:30, but Catherine was not there yet. Theresa is a lively, chatty,open woman who told us about her work, Mehmet’s work and what it’s like to live in Istanbul after growing up in New England and raising sheep for many years. The big city has it’s attractions,but the rural area is drawing her and Mehmet more and more.

Catherine arrived and we continued talking and when the conversation turned to food we realized that we were all hungry! We went around the corner and sat at an outdoor table after choosing our food from the buffet in the restaurant. The food was only OK,but the setting and the conversation made it a memorable lunch! Returning to the shop to use the bathroom, we continued to talk. Eventually, the exhaustion of the jet -lag caught up with me. Either keep moving or fall asleep! We opted to walk to the Blue Mosque, only about 10 mins away. Theresa had warmed me that the mosque required women to have their heads covered, and, in fact, gave me a silk scarf for that purpose. It was one of a large bunch of scarves that she had purchased for “decompositon” and eventual integration with wool fibers into a felt object. She discovered after buying lots of these scarves that they don’t work for her purpose. So, I had my head cover!

The Blue Mosque is very large, and the interior is decorated with primarily blue tiles, blue and white really. The consistency of the color, along with the great variety of patterns, does give the space a unique feeling of calmness.

We walked back to the tram and headed to where we had started in the morning, at Karakoy, originally, but detoured to the  waterside where we found a boat offering tours of the Bospheros for only 12 tl( abut $4). Great opportunity to see the Istanbul area from the water! The boat had plain wooded slat benches on the outdoor upper deck and we found spaces. Then we sat there for over an hour! Apparently, rather than a schedule, the boat leaves when it is full,or at least that is how is seemed to us. The trip was really eye-opening, if a bit chilly. We saw palaces, universities, restaurants and hotels all along the water. The sun had long since been covered by an even coating of light gray clouds and the wind was picking up. When we left the boat, we opted for a taxi ride up the big hill to near our hotel, and besides, the exhaustion had set in and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. Bill seems to get by just fine on so much less sleep than I need, I feel guilty for being tired when he is OK. But, as was clear earlier in the day when  he tolerated the conversation of 3 women who chattered away for hours without complaint.

We did rest a bit and by the time we were ready to find dinner, the downpour had started! Rather than go back upstairs, we realized that there is a restaurant directly across the street from our hotel, so we ran. Food was OK, nothing special, a chain place I learned. But that was just fine. We ate a lot for about $9 ea and scooted back across the street in much lighter rain. Writing time first, and now to bed.

Tomorrow we have a walking/eating tour for about half of the day. More tomorrow,inshallah!




Published in: on May 7, 2015 at 7:47 pm  Comments (2)