Archive for the 'Turkey' Category
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
To say we have eaten vast quantities of food while staying with our lovely host family in Istanbul is an understatement. Inci, our Turkish mom, is a fabulous cook, but the portion sizes are gargantuan! We often protest to additional servings, but as her son says, “My mom doesn’t understand ‘enough’ in English or Turkish.” An average weekday dinner is a multi-course affair, something most Americans would only experience during the holidays, always consisting of soup, salad, bread, rice, vegetables, meat and dessert.
Maikael has a way of jinxing meals. “This doesn’t seem like so much,” he says, looking at the gozeleme, a Turkish quesedilla, flopped on his plate, not seeing the other two sizzling in the frypan. “As long as I don’t eat anything else I’ll be fine,” he’ll say while stomaching his final bit of rosewater-laced gulac or gooey baklava. An hour later, Inci will cheerfully ask, “Dondurma?” “As, as,” a little, we demure. Then, great spoonfuls of pistachio ice cream are heaped into glass dishes. One evening we retired to our room after dessert number two, groaning loudly. Then, we heard the jangle of silverware against dishes. Our ears perked up, like a dog who’s heard a cat a mile away, and we shoot each other panicked looks. “Maikael? Elizabeth?” we heard Inci call down the hallway. As we creeped into the kitchen, we saw that each place setting was bedecked with a cornucopia of fruit: bananas, peaches, two different types of grapes, and tart green apples.
It’s an interesting contrast, then, that the end of our time in Turkey fell during Ramazan (also referred to as Ramadan), the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, commemorating the revelation of the Quran to the prophet Mohammed. Muslims renew their faith by fasting from sunrise to sunset for one lunar month, not permitting anything to pass their lips, including food, drink, and cigarettes. We didn’t plan it this way, but we will be passing through the Muslim world during the entire month of Ramazan.
I was a little nervous. Would we be expected to fast, too? Were there special customs we needed to follow? What if we did something wrong and inadvertently offended someone? We watched the news with interest the night before Ramazan started, which contained a 30-minute special segment on the holiday. A doctor was interviewed on how to fast safely (pregnant women shouldn’t do it), and offered tips on how to make it through the day without killing anyone from nicotine withdrawals. They showed footage of the Blue Mosque, Turkey’s most famous mosque, which had a carnival-like atmosphere. Temporary structures, such as sprawling tea gardens, had been erected to minister to the masses that pour into the historic mosque during Ramazan. Inci told us that we wouldn’t be expected to fast (although it is still important to be discreet in public). Our fears were laid to rest…except for one.
I understood that the dinners that followed a day of fasting were often huge. How could the meal possibly be any bigger than Inci’s usual affairs? I was afraid my stomach might split wide open right there at the dinner table. “Are there special meals?” I asked Onur, Inci’s son, trying to be diplomatic. “Not special,” he said, “just bigger.” I gulped. “Like, bigger how?” “Well, instead of one salad, there will be three,” he continued.
Around 4 am the following day, we were awoken by the rhythmic bang of a loud drum. Someone seemed to be parading through the streets in the fashion of a minuteman. Soon the family was up, eating and praying before sunrise “I think it’s starting,” I said sleepily to Maikael, before drifting back to sleep. When we awoke later that morning, the tenor of the household was different than other days. Everyone dozed, conserving their energy, and Inci prepared us a smaller and simpler breakfast than usual, which we felt a little strange eating in front of her, despite her encouragement. When we went out for the day, the restaurants and grocery stores were largely empty, and the world seemed to hum a little quieter than usual.
When we returned home later in the evening, Inci was busy preparing what looked to be a feast. A plate of kofte, grilled beef patties, and French friends were sputtering in a pot of oil, and heaping plates of watermelon, honeydew, and salad already graced the table. Every burner on the stove was occupied by simmering pots. Inci tore off a piece of round bread studded with sesame seeds – special Ramazan bread, she said — and guided me through the long menu.
Onur and his wife, Burcin, came for dinner, and I was relieved when we were allowed to serve ourselves. At the heart of Iftar, a Ramazan dinner, is celebrating blessings, offering hospitality, and sharing a meal with friends and family – biological and otherwise.No comments
Monday, September 1, 2008
We have updated our itinerary with our new locations and dates. We were (finally) able to get our tickets reissued today, and I’m pretty sure we danced a jig out of the American Airlines office this afternoon. In our continued quest to visit sites of Indian Jones significance, we celebrated our victory with a trip to an historic Turkish hamam that was featured in one of the films. We sat on a great stone slab, basking under a magnificent domed ceiling punched with stars, reveling in the solitude. It was the calmest we had felt in days. We returned home, however, to discover that our flight to Jordan, booked for tomorrow, was “unconfirmed” (despite the fact that we have a ticket stating otherwise?!), so we may or may not leave tomorrow. I am beginning to wonder if Istanbul will ever release us from its grip, or if the fates are trying to tell us something. In any event, we’re going to show up to the airport and play dumb and see what happens.No comments
Monday, September 1, 2008
We were supposed to fly to Rome on Saturday. However, we have recently made some dramatic changes to our itinerary – for better or worse – and have decided to leave directly to Jordan from Istanbul. The earliest available flight to Jordan is September 2, three days after our scheduled flight to Rome.
Our first order of business upon returning to Istanbul from Cirali was to have our tickets reissued. Although we have reservations for our next flight segments, we have no actual tickets; further, because we have paper tickets, some poor sap has to physically pen our new ones. In order to do so, we had to pay a visit to American Airlines’ sole, inconveniently-located office in Istanbul – the only such office in the whole country.
We took a one-hour metro ride to Kabatas, a part of the city I had never been to. We trudged up the hill, holding a crumpled piece of paper in our hands with the office’s address. Passing number 33 once, we hiked back down the hill. A small brass sign, barely detectable, read, “American Airlines, first floor,” and pointed upward. We squinted at the poky staircase that disappeared into the dark. “This is it?” I asked, incredulously.
Once inside, the agency assured us that our tickets could be easily reissued within a few hours. Meanwhile, we spent a leisurely afternoon exploring Taksim, the city already emptying of tourists in late August We ducked in and out of bookstores, buying Lonely Planet guides for our next legs, and spent a long time chatting with the director of the Sufi museum, who was eager to practice his English.
When we returned to the office later that afternoon, we learned that, not only had the tickets not been reissued, but there were “problems.” However, because the office was only an agent of American Airlines, they couldn’t place a call to the airlines in London without charging us 30 Euros (about $45) per person. “Come back Monday and we’ll get it sorted out,” she said, confidently. Our flight is scheduled to leave Tuesday.
I was beside myself. I’ve never faced the unknown very well, and this trip has only confirmed that. I spent a sleepless night wondering how and if we were ever going to get out of Istanbul. If I have learned anything thus far, it’s that I place my expectations in all the wrong places: I expect situations to work out perfectly most times, and when they don’t (and they rarely do), I panic. But I expect very little from people, tending to be leery and untrusting.
The next morning we called Dunya and Diler, a couple about our age who we met at our hotel in Cirali. They both live in Istanbul and lived in New York City for three years, where they attended graduate school. They were eager to show us Istanbul, and encouraged us to contact them when we got back to the city. We decided now would be the perfect time: we needed to have some fun and distract ourselves from the situation at hand.
We met them back in Kabatas (was there a vortex in this neighborhood?), where we boarded a boat for a tour of the Bosphorous. As the ticket collector came around, we were once again surprised when they offered to pay. “You are our guests,” they insisted. We spent a lovely hour taking in the scenery and chatting. It was Victory Day, celebrating the Turk’s triumph over their many invaders throughout the course of history, and every building was draped with gigantic Turkish flags. Huge swaths of the cherry fabric, festooned with the iconic white crescent moon and star, flapped in the breeze. Some flags bore an image of Ataturk, their beloved national hero, who I think is quite dashing.
I shared with Dunya (whose name, interestingly, means “world”) and Diler our ticket woes. Having lived in both American and Turkish cultures, they were able to offer a helpful perspective. “In America there is a system, and the people are bound to it. When something goes wrong, there is always a responsible party,” said Dunya. While none of our lives are ultimately in our control, I think there is a pervasive sense in the US that most things can be manipulated to our satisfaction if we just try hard enough. In most of the world, this isn’t the case; and while I know this on an intellectual level, I am finding it nearly impossible to surrender that sense of control. I am fighting a losing battle with myself.
After the boat cruise, they drove us around the more modern parts of Istanbul, which we had never seen. We zoomed past the towering skyscrapers that they both work in, and lunched in a chic area of town, which, again, was their treat. As a thoroughly modern Turkish couple, it was interesting to hear their perspective on politics, world affairs, social mores, and cultural norms. We walked around Nisantasi, the Beverly Hills of Turkey, and found the streets to be blessedly tourist-free, nothing like the buzzing chaos of Sultanahmet. We popped into a store that I can only describe as the Crate and Barrel of Turkey, where, instead of a plethora of pillows and plates, one can choose from a dizzying array of raki glasses and tea cups.
We said our goodbyes, wishing that we could repay the favor someday if they ever travel to New Mexico. But tit for tat wasn’t the point. I shared with Diler that I was amazed that, in traveling throughout Turkey, no one seems particularly concerned with “keeping tabs.” There was one day in Goreme where we owed four people money. It wasn’t much – a couple of lira here and there – but each vendor always said, “Next time.” When we returned less than an hour later with the money, people looked surprised. “You didn’t have to make a special trip back here!” they seemed to say. Diler translated. “The attitude is that if you have something to give, you give it. They trust that if you are a good person, you will be back. If not, then you’ll get that money back in your life in some other way. The important thing is to do it if you can.” This was the embodiment of karma and trust in your fellow man, an example of placing your expectations in all the right places. It was as nice of a philosophy as I had ever heard.No comments
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
When we chose to come to Cirali, at the behest of my aerobics teacher from back home, she urged us to stay at Arcadia Holiday House. She couldn’t say enough good things about it: it was reasonably priced, the food was outstanding, and the location and service were perfect. When I inquired about reservations weeks ago, I wasn’t surprised to learn that they were already booked for the entire month of August. However, they recommended a few other properties and, after cross-referencing them with Trip Advisor, I selected one that received rave reviews.
Things were a little strange from the get-go. Emails that I sent posing numerous questions (“Do you have WiFi?” “How do I get there?”) were rarely responded to with the answers I was seeking. Typically, most emails simply read, “See you soon!” While cheery, they didn’t exactly give me the information I needed. None were ever signed.
I can’t say I was entirely surprised when we arrived and the weirdness continued. A man, whom we will call The Great Zanzibar, seemed to be running the show. Maikael picked up this nickname from a coworker of his, who uses Zanzibar to describe anyone of guru-like proportions. This man seemed to fit the bill. With long, flowing hair, luminous blue eyes, and a dopey grin, he was a Zanzibar like I had never seen the likes of. We asked him a few questions and he smiled, responding, in a rather high-pitched and breathy voice, “Okay.” I suspected he was the one who had been responding to my emails all along.
We soon met U., a young man, probably in his early 20s, who seemed to be the jack-of-all trades employee. He was reception, restaurant, and cleaning crew, all rolled in one. Later that day he served us dinner, a strange fusion of Turkish and European cuisine. After dinner the first night, U. complained that he did all the work around here, and that Zanzibar did nothing. Then, he discreetly bragged to Maikael about his apparent conquests with some of the hotel guests.
We took a look around the neighborhood, and soon discovered that the Arcadia was right next door! The properties were so close, in fact, that it was easy to mistake one for the other. On the surface, they seemed nearly identical.
The next morning we sat down to breakfast in the courtyard, which adjoined the beach. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. The flowers were blooming. The chickens were running around beneath our feet. Except for the latter, it was perfect. Our breakfast was served: fresh-squeezed orange juice; small, oval plates bearing fresh cheeses, walnuts, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers; fresh bread, yogurt, and cereal; and best of all, homemade fruit preserves. Two gleaming dishes, one bearing plums and the other apricots, looking like little plates of jewels.
We were ready to dig into the feast when a bee landed on the apricots. I scrunched up my face and timidly swatted it away. Within 60 seconds there were 10 bees, all alighting on the apricots (they had no interest in the plums). We watched, in horror and fascination, as the bees slowly flapped their syrupy wings, sudden death imminent. Meanwhile, one bee taunted us, swimming back strokes around the honey, while another committed suicide in the sugary depths. Maikael stood up, assuming Bee Patrol, and began flapping his arms wildly, a human windmill. Despite the obviously commotion we were causing, U. was deep in conversation with a pretty girl. We waited for him to notice our bee attack, something out of one of the 1970s insect infestation films with names like “Bees!” and “Ants!” When he finally looked over, Maikael frowned and said, “Too many bees.” U. smiled. “It’s normal!” he said, dismissively, promptly turning back to the pretty girl.
I cast a longing look at the Arcadia, where all of the jams were smartly covered by a mesh basket. Professionally-dressed employees, wearing white linen shorts and tops, scurried about the tables.
For two days U. promised that he would take Maikael to town to use the ATM. On the third day, after U. had said he’d stop by the room when he was ready, Maikael went to find him. “He went to town,” Zanzibar said. When we saw U. later that day, he said he had taken a nap that afternoon. “This would never happen at the Arcadia,” I moaned, not knowing if that was really true or not.
The power went out one night at dinner, and we were plunged into darkness. Next door, a gentle whirring sound begun, as soft lights began to glow. “Of course Arcadia has a generator,” Maikael said.
It’s not to say that the place is bad. The rooms are lovely, the access to the beach is incomparable, and most of the people are really friendly. But the service is incredibly inconsistent. On some mornings we receive eggs with our breakfast; on others it’s never offered. We didn’t learn until day three that we could have complimentary tea or coffee with our breakfast. Some days the jams were covered with plastic wrap, which really helped the bee situation; others were not. Some dinners were excellent; others were cold, as U. sat chatting with a table of friends. Our room wasn’t serviced the first few days (“Maybe they don’t want to disturb people?” we mused), and then it abruptly started one day. U. asked for our room key, and it was returned with a keychain comprised of a fishing lure, which hadn’t been there when we had given it over 30 minutes earlier.
We sat on the beach late one afternoon as the sun dipped behind the mountains. An impeccably-dressed employee approached the beach chairs on the Arcadia side, which were shaded by white, leafy umbrellas. He carefully rotated each chair so that two perfect lines were formed. Then, he turned over each cushion, neatly brushing the sand off each one with a petite broom. I looked around our quadrant. The chairs were lying helter skelter, pierced by sunlight that made its way through the tattered umbrellas. The cushions flapped noisily in the breeze.
Zanzibar came through a few moments later, passively placing rocks on a few select cushions, but leaving the Mariachi beer bottle behind.No comments
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
There are a lot of English people staying at our hotel in Cirali. I’m ready for “God Save the Queen” to break out at any moment, and for afternoon tea to be served after a game of croquet on the beach. We have felt a little out of place, apparently the only Americans for miles. But yesterday afternoon, too lovely English ladies, Penny and Carol, sat themselves next to us in one of the shady, cushioned lounge areas that abuts the beach. They asked if we were on holiday from the US, and we explained that we were taking a break from our trip around the world. This, as it always does, led to a long conversation about where we were going, where we had been, and the places they had traveled to. When I mentioned our upcoming trip to Bhutan, Penny’s face lit up. “I met the Prince of Bhutan once!” (He had graduated in her daughter’s class at university.) I took this as a colossal sign that, not only are we on the right track with going to Bhutan, but we needed to join forces with these great women.
As it turned out, we were all planning on hiking to the Chimaera that evening, a sight straight out of Greek mythology, an hour’s walk from Cirali. The Greeks once thought that a monster – part lion, part goat, and part dragon, known as a chimaera — hidden deep in the earth was responsible for the flames. It still burns today, thousands of years later, a series of flames created not by a monster, but by gas seeping from cracks in the earth. This we had to see.
To say it is hot and humid here is a gross understatement. This air is so thick with humidity that you can literally see it, a hazy mist that never quite goes away. If you could wring out the air like a giant towel, a downpour would most certainly ensue. By the time we reached the entrance, our clothes were soaked through. We prepared to begin our final ascent up the hill, when a ticket booth loomed ahead of us. Maikael and I exchanged a shocked look: neither of us had brought money. By now we had told Penny and Carol about our debacle with the ATM, and figured they must be thinking, “What a bunch of morons. They go out of their way to get money, then leave it behind. How will they ever manage to make it around the world?!” Instead, they were exceedingly kind (“It”s a mistake anyone could make!”) and paid our admission fee.
When we made it to the top, we stopped to take a rest. Our faces were now cascading sweat, a virtual Niagara Falls. Carol produced a cloth (okay, it was a sock, but it was a clean sock) to wipe our faces. Then, she rooted around her bag, fishing out cucumber wipes to “freshen up a bit.” “It’s a bit like having your mothers along, isn’t it?” laughed Penny. I was never so grateful to have two women looking after me.
We meandered around the site, which was strewn with large blocks of stone carved with Greek lettering, a magnificent backdrop to the legend. My only frame of reference for such sites is Flaming Geyser Park in Auburn, Washington, where one, small flame emanates from a cylinder of concrete. As a child it was magical, but this was altogether different. Flames rose from the earth like an organic furnace, making their way over rocky rubble. As dusk turned to nightfall, the flames licked the thick, dark air. Were it not for the tourists with their bright headlamps, it would have been perfect.
Our foursome took a seat on a rocky perch, talking about children, work, travel, and life philosophies. We have begun to notice that we are constantly having intensely deep conversations with almost-strangers. Maybe it’s the fact that we’ll never see each other again. Or maybe it’s because, with all the humdrum details of our life removed, we have the time and space for these sorts of talks.
We made our way back down the hill, leaving Maikael behind to take a few photos. When he didn’t catch up to us, I grew a little worried. “Don’t worry,” Penny and Carol said, “we won’t leave without you.” He emerged from the night a few moments later, a pinpoint of blue light bobbing up and down. Our foursome hiked back to town, the night still exceedingly warm, where I repaid Penny and Carol for the admission fee. “Thanks for being our mums tonight,” I said.No comments
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It’s the dog days of summer. All over the northern hemisphere, the tourist season is winding down, and the start of the school year is just around the corner. But for us, summer is just beginning. When we planned this trip, we intentionally decided to follow the sun for eight months, for better or worse. Summer days that are normally spent sitting in air conditioned office buildings have been replaced by hours of daylight walking. After six weeks, my skin has turned a deep, tawny bronze. The hairs on my arms have been bleached a shocking blond color. I can’t wear my foundation anymore because the color is too pale; I would look ghoulish. I haven’t been this tan since I was a kid.
When I was little, my dad and I would spend nearly every Saturday at Salt Water State Park, a small beach that was near our home in Seattle. I splashed around in the waves for hours, taking breaks for slightly gritty hot dogs lined with entirely too much ketchup and impossibly sticky salt water taffy from the neighboring snack bar. Meanwhile, my dad spent an entire summer pushing mighty boulders from the sea floor to make the swimming more comfortable for me. By the end of summer, the bottom of the beach was a perfectly sandy strip, and I was the color of molasses.
Being at the beach the past five days has brought me back to that time in my life, when summers were pure fun. I had forgotten how much I love swimming in the ocean, the vastness of which scares so many people, but which I find exhilarating. Trade the clear, warm waters of the Mediterranean for the bracing chill of Puget Sound, and I could be eight years-old again.No comments