Iyi Bayramlar!

This first week back in Istanbul has been such a whirlwind. I moved house, changed jobs, and have had social opportunities with my new friends and colleagues every night.  My experience this year is so significantly different than last year, and yet my emotions and energy level were the same. The intensity of jet lag and lack of sleep is almost identical, and while I am incredibly comfortable in Istanbul, and not very nervous about my new job, I again was feeling melancholy and disconnected.

A big part of my disconnect was due to the fact that while I am returning to a place that I know, I have in a sense, severed ties back home. It is one thing to take a leave of absence for a year and travel, study, or work abroad. It is another thing to quit your job and consciously make the potentially long-term decision to live abroad. While I did not have much intention of returning to the States after my first year in Turkey, I still had the possibility. This time, resigning my position at home, signing a two-year contract, and moving onto a beautiful campus in a lovely flat to work at an incredible school feels quite a bit different. I don’t know where this next chapter in my life will lead, and I am taking the time to reflect on that.

I am now living on a beautiful wooded campus in the middle of Istanbul, a short seven-minute walk to work and a two minute walk to the Bosphorus Straight. My flat is a great size for E and I, and it is incredibly quiet. But I find myself missing my neighborhood in Ortaköy. Living here, I don’t feel so much like I am living in Istanbul, rather a little hamlet where English is spoken, and life is easy. Of course, the village of Arnavutköy is a five-minute walk away, and is a darling place. However, and perhaps it is because it is Ramazan, or because it is new, I feel it lacks the hustle and bustle of commerce that Ortaköy has. There is no bakkal (quicky-mart) down the street from me, there are no packs of street dogs barking outside my bedroom window, and it is just significantly smaller. I am of course looking forward to exploring and making Arnavutköy my community, but it does have a different feel.

Lastly, there have been so many evening social events and during the day I am trying to settle into my apartment that I have not had the chance to connect to my Istanbul. To reconnect with the sense of the city and my place within it was pulling me down. Fortunately, a conversation with a good friend in my hour of distress, the understanding that I have been just flat-out exhausted, and a whopping five hours of sleep prepared me to find my Istanbul. Again, as last year, I do my best finding in the early morning wake-ups courtesy of jet-lag, and a nice run.

Today is Şeker Bayramı, the sugar holiday marking the end of Ramazan. On my morning run at 6:40am, I passed people fishing, families on the sea-side, and beautifully illuminated clouds over Anatolya (the Asian side of the city). This being Istanbul, I also passed a couple in a car enjoying an early-morning (or very late night) beer.  With each group of people, we exchanged greetings for a good holiday (or cheers in the case of the beer drinkers). I saw the sun rise and beam through the clouds while sitting on a bench with an old fortress to my back and the FSM Bridge to Asia in front of me. I smelled the sea as cargo ships cruised past, and stood close enough to the edge for the spray from the waves to get me a bit. I listened to the “plunk” of the lead weights hitting the water as fishermen cast, observed the mosque emptying from the morning prayers, and I watched my Istanbul wake up. Yes, it took a week, and I know that in the coming year there will be times of stress and discord, but it is only today that I feel that I am back in Istanbul and feel my place, and it feels great. It really is a good holiday. Iyi Bayramlar!

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Athens Smells Like Orange Blossoms and Tear Gas

It has been awhile since I have blogged. After my month of constant travel, I came to a time of quite a bit of work and busied myself with living my life, that I have not had much time for reflection. However, this is one blog entry I have been looking forward to writing since my trip.

After our amazing trip to the Lycian Peninsula, I had to work for five days, and then there was a four day weekend. That’s crazy, one would think we could break up the time off, but I’m certainly not complaining. With four days off of work, I had to get out of the city. My choice: Athens, Greece.

This year has been so full of reminders of how fortunate I am, and my weekend trip to Athens was another reminder. In sixth grade, I made a really detailed drawing of the Parthenon; I was so fascinated with this ancient temple. In my undergrad, I studied ancient Greece and classical sculpture in my art history classes; never really sure when I would have the time and money to see these sights in real life.  Now I am taking a four day weekend to this city of ancient wonders and modern struggle.

My weekend began with one of those fantastic chance encounters in the airport, where I met a band traveling to Athens to play a show on Saturday night. Shearwater put me on their guest list, with a ‘plus one’ in case I found a friend to bring along. I had a connection to meet with; a friend of some friends, so I emailed AM and we made plans to meet up and go to this show later that night at An Club (yes that really is the name, not a typo, short for Anarchist or Anarchy).

 

As soon as I arrived at my hostel, I left with the intention of getting to the Acropolis. I hiked up the hill, only to find that it closes t 3:00pm (it was 2:40). Athens!? Really?! Major tourist attraction closed at 3:00 on a Saturday!? No wonder you guys have no money! Disappointed, I had to settle for a visit to the Acropolis Museum, which houses the artifacts and artwork found at the Acropolis site. It is worth noting that I saw so many sculptures of nude Athenian men that I began to wonder if they ever wore clothes. Interestingly (and pleasantly) enough, the majority of these male nudes were fully intact, a rarity for sculpture as old as these.  The collection features many kouri as well as full relief sculptures that made up the friezes along the top of the Parthenon. Seeing the relics of antiquity that I studied extensively in art history refreshed my interest in classical sculpture as I saw how perfectly rendered these pieces are. Stories of war and battles, myth and religion, as well as every day life are depicted in the various pieces of this rich collection.

The district surrounding the Acropolis is picturesque pretty with cobble stones, boutiques, touristic shops. The warm air is heavy with the scent of orange blossoms, and one has the surreal feeling of walking though Disneyland or a movie set. This is the Athens that is presented to the tourists, pretty and friendly, tasty, historic, a glossed-over bliss.

After a meal of gyro and a beer, and a wander through orange blossom smelling alleys, I met up with an Athens Couchsurfing On the guest list and in the front rowAmbassador, AM. He and I share mutual friends in Istanbul, though I have been lazy about creating my Couchsurfing profile. However, after spending time with AM, I have a better understanding of the organization, and it was great to have people to hang out with while traveling alone.  We went to a Couchsurfing picnic on top of a hill opposite the Acropolis with views of the sea, city, and monuments.  I met a bunch of people, some of whom were traveling, some living in Athens, ate some pastry, and sang along to Bob Marley and Red Hot Chili Peppers played on a guitar.

On the guest list and in the front row

One thing I really miss about home is seeing live music. I don’t go out to clubs much in Istanbul because it is hard to find music I like and the things I do like usually play on weeknights. I’m not so good at going to a show and then going to work the next morning.  The Shearwater show we went do didn’t disappoint. The club was grungy and small, the crowd was super into the band, and thus the band reciprocated.  When planning my trip to Athens I did not anticipate being introduced to new American music and meeting so many fantastic people.

An Club is located in the Exarhia district of Athens, home to the anarchist scene, much street art, and the occasional demonstration. The evening we were in the area there was a free punk rock show in Exarhia square, thus a large number of people were gathered. When our show had ended and we were deciding what to do next, we heard the distinct sound of petrol bombs and people yelling. Of course I am aware of the protests in Athens but I wasn’t really sure of what that would mean. We made our way to another bar and encountered no trouble and no other bomb sounds. However, I did feel the burn of tear gas in the back of my throat a few hours later.

On Sunday I made my pilgrimage to the Acropolis, and a pilgrimage was what it felt like. I spent two hours walking around the ancient temple site under the blazing sun, over-looking the modern city, taking a million photographs, trying to imagine what it was like in its heyday with Athena and Zeus, Socrates and Plato reining supreme.

Monday was a day trip to Delphi, the site of the navel of the Earth and the Oracle of Delphi. The country side is beautifully crisscrossed with poppy fields and olive groves as we climbed into the mountains.  One of the most interesting monuments in Delphi is the Stoa of the Athenians. It is said that when the slaves were freed in Athens, they made pilgrimages to Delphi and constructed a temple to Apollo around 480BCE.  Each slave carved his name in the wall of the stoa, and these names remain.

You can barely make out the Greek script with the names of the slaves

Returning to the city, I met up with AM and a friend of his for some pastry with cheese, ham, and bacon, and some beers. We discussed life in modern Athens and the strife that the Greeks are experiencing. AM mentioned that his father’s pension was cut by almost 700Euros (if I’m remembering correctly) and that the taxes have increased in the city on necessities such as public transportation and housing such that it is very difficult to live. I am not the most politically minded person, and lord knows I don’t do the best job reading the news, so his explanations made this all a lot more understandable to me.

I spent my last day in Athens marveling at the pieces in the Archaeological Museum. Highlight of the Archaeology museum was seeing a sculpture of Aphrodite being leered at by Pan; she is defending herself from his advances by smacking him with her sandal. Brilliant! Aphrodite, you sure know how to get your point across.

Aphrodite beating Pan with a sandal

My last stop before the airport in Athens was just a walk around the Exarhia District. When I was there on Saturday night, I saw a bunch of murals and street art and wanted to see the area in the daylight. Many pieces were obviously politically motivated with images of gas masks, tags reading “Athens Burns”, and ideals of revolution.  I saw commentary on the tourism industry and generic pieces about police.  As I wandered, I started feeling a slight burn in the back of my throat and realized it was the reminisce of tear gas.  This neighborhood is frequently gassed, and the people who live here have to live with this. I assume the gas smell I experienced on this day (Tuesday) is different from the gas exposure from the last time I was in this district (Saturday). It would be difficult to be living in this area and not feel that the state wasn’t against you. I was only walking around for an hour or so and both times I was in this area of the city I had the same experience. If I lived here, I would be angry too.  Greece is known as the foundation of democracy…how sad would the great philosophers be to see how corrupted their ideals have become?

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Old Sh^t, Hiking, Beaches, and Beers… (Part 4: Olympos)

Our last stop on our trip was three nights in the rural village of Olympos nestled in a valley. Village is a bit of an overstatement when describing this strip of dirt road that is crossed by a river in not one but two places and lined by pensions.  Really, there is nothing in Olympos but nature, it was great.

Basically, staying in Olympos is like camping without the inconviences of camping. They market these things called ‘treehouses’, which are basically elevated shacks, or you can get a ‘bungalow’, which is a normal shack on the ground, with a bathroom. The one we stayed in had a bed, bathroom, and heater, so it was perfect.  Breakfast and dinner is included in the price, which is necessary as there are NO other options out here. Not even a market to put together a picnic.  The place we stayed at had really good food, and the people were friendly. Orange tress and hamocks were scattered throughout the property, and as it was the off season, there were not that many other people.

The draw for Olympos is the scenery. It sits in a valley and the river that cuts through this valley leads out to a pebble beach on the Mediterranian.  It is the site of another city in ancient Lycia, so there are ruins that are still under excavation and reconstruction, and near by are the Yanartaş (eternal flames).  We spent two days exploring ruins, checking out these eternal flames, and reading on the beach. I was beginning to get sick for the millionth time this year, so Olympos was a great chill-out spot to lounge around and do nothing.

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Old Sh^t, Hiking, Beaches, and Beers… (Part 3: Kaş & Kayaking over Simena)

View of Kaş

About half way between Fethiye and Antalya is the city of Kaş. We decided to stop here mainly because sitting on a bus for 5-6 hours didn’t really sound like a vacation, and there are supposed to be cool things in the area including hiking and kayaking from a village called Uçağız.

It turned out perfectly. We arrived in Kaş on a rainy evening after a beautiful ride down the coast.  The pension we were staying in organized a kayak tour for us as well. We awoke the next morning to a beautiful blue sky and I slathered on the sunscreen.  The drive to Uçağız was beautiful over winding roads and through fields and greenhouses producing tomatoes, I think.

The cool thing about this area is that it is also still on the Lycian Way, so it has been inhabited since the 8th Century BC, and there is all kinds of cool sh^t here.  The village of Uçağız has old crumbling buildings of unknown age, and a bunch of Lycian tombs by the water, but not much else.  We got in our kayaks and paddled out to an island agross the way, where we stopped for a break, a bit of exploring, and some people took a swim in the chilly water.

The selling point of this kayak trip is that you get to kayak over a sunken city called Simena, which collapsed into the water during an earthquake in the 2nd Century AD.  The water around the islands is very clear, and quite still in the morning so we could see quite a bit more than we expected.  It would have been cooler to snorkel, but it was cold, and kayaking is the option. It was so nice to be out on the water though. E and I made a good team in our double kayak, got to where we were going, and didn’t flip over.

We ate lunch at a village called Kaleköy (translation: Castle Village), and then got a bit of time for exploring. While there is a castle on the island, we decided to skip paying the entrance fee and instead explored the NECROPLOIS!! Yup, you read that right, we had an awesome day of kayaking, island exploring, eating, and wandering around an ancient Lycian cemetery. This place was awesome! I took about a million photos because the landscape, clouds, water, and shrubbery were all in sync for incredible awesomeness. What made it even better was no one else* from the kayak trip came with us.

Kaş and our kayak trip were a great way to break up a really long bus ride. When we got back to Kaş, about 6pm, we immediately hopped on a bus for Olympos for the last part of our trip.

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*Our solitude in the necropolis was especially great because we didn’t have to listen to this annoying douche bag Dutch guy and his three Canadian (girl)friends who are “studying abroad” in Istanbul. Seriously, so many youngsters these days are ‘studying abroad’ in Europe. At this point I take it to mean “partying on daddy’s dollar while stumbling through a few classes to get some credits”. I realize this might not be true for all college kids; some I have met realize how fortunate they are to have had this experience and are relishing it. However, this guy definitely falls into the first category. Plus, all four of them were studying things like “political science and international relations”. This is a budding young politician and business leader, true capitalist, who probably has a subscription to Teen Forbes.

Here are some quotes from this guy, which I just have to share:

  • “I have gone on holiday every year with my friends since I was 15 (this was repeated no less than 4 times throughout the day)…this year we are thinking Tunisia.”
  • “Yeah, I told my parents that sail boats are too much work and to just buy a speed boat.”
  • “Sometimes if you get a job in a bigger embassy, you just end up making copies. This is why I want to work for a smaller embassy, so I can do more important things.”

Truthfully, I kind of got a kick out of listening to these gems all day. Though I am a bit afraid that the students I’ll be working with next year will smack of this douche bag.  Oh well, I guess that’s why I’ll be there, to teach a bit of humility and remind them of the power of the proletariat.

Old Sh^t, Hiking, Beaches, and Beers… (Part 2: Faralya, Kabak, and the Butterfly Valley)

Map of Ancient Lycia

Faralya is a small village on the ancient Lycian Way, a hiking trail that winds along the peninsula from Ölü Deniz to near Antalya, around the ruins of the Lycian civilization. It takes approximately 5 weeks to walk the entire 500km, and we only had 7 days.  When planning this trip, we decided to get to a few key spots and do day hikes from there. Only 3 dolmuş, (pronounced: dol-mush, a mini-bus), a day from Fethiye to Faralya, and the ride is about an hour, so planning was necessary. After getting settled into our süper cute pension, Melisa Pension (totally recommend it), we began our hike down to the Butterfly Valley.

This hike took us down a crazy steep path down 500 meter cliffs to the beautiful valley.  The valley is privately owned by several different people and groups, so it will not be developed. We walked through the hippie farmstead to the beach.  There are two ways to get to the valley, via the hike down the cliffs that we did, or via boat from Ölü Deniz.  Part of the reason we stayed in Faralya was so we could hike down into the valley, as the idea of taking a boat with other tourists to this tiny, pristine location sounded less appealing.  As it was, we encountered maybe six other people while we were in the valley, and had the entire beach to ourselves. Sadly, it was too windy to make swimming desirable, but dangling feet off the rocks felt nice.

Beach Beers

After our picnic lunch, we walked back up the floor of the valley to waterfall, which apparently takes a much faster route down the cliffs than we did. Our time in the valley was so quiet and nice; it made me so thankful for the opportunity for off season travel. While it would have been nice to swim in the waterfall and the cove, I would trade the warmer weather for the solitude that we had in this amazing location.

A glass of wine and relaxing on the porch was delightful after crawling back up the cliffs to the pension.

Late afternoon after the hike

After the most amazing breakfast of locally produced cheese, yogurt, honey, olives, preserves, and butter (again, recommending Melisa Pension), we began the 7 kilometer hike to Kabak Village. This hike began on the road and took us up and over the hill to the next village on the Lycian Way. Walking through forest and fields, at the bases of mountains, we encountered village life that has not changed for centuries. Shepherds, bee keepers, farmers, people who have been tending this land for hundreds, if not thousands of years have left subtle marks on the landscape.  Crumbling walls, old terraces, orchards, are interspersed with bee hives and current homesteads.

The village of Kabak is beautiful as well. Mostly small pensions perched above the Kabak Beach. Surrounded by mountains and hiking trails that lead on to the next town on the Lycian Way. After a lunch of gözleme and ayran, and sitting in the sun, we returned to our pension for our last night in Faralya.

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Old Sh^t, Hiking, Beaches, and Beers… (Part 1, Fethiye and Kayaköy)

One thing that constantly reminds me that it I may find it possible to remain in Istanbul for many years is the ease with which I can leave Istanbul. Turkey has many low-budget airlines, and for the low price of 80tl, about $60USD, I can take a 45 minute flight to the Mediterranean beaches in Southern Turkey.  For our spring break trip, E and I traveled from Fethiye to Antalya, spending 3 nights in the Fethiye/Faralya area, one night in Kaş, and three nights in Olympos before catching our evening flight out of Antalya (ticket price from Antalya to Istanbul: 60tl; about $40USD).

This was honestly one of the best vacations I have taken. We had hiking, beaches, amazing old things, lots of relaxing in beautiful places.  On Saturday morning, we boarded an ungodly early flight for Dalaman, where we landed 45 minutes later. A quick 45 minute bus ride brought us to Fethiye and we were having coffee at our pension overlooking the harbor.  After a wonderful kahvaltı, (breakfast), we set out for the abandoned Greek village of Kayaköy.

Kayaköy was a Christian Greek community until the 1920s, when an agreement as part of the Greco-Turkish War resulted in a population exchange and the town was abandoned.  We hiked all over the village, made friends with the cutest baby goat ever, and continued 7 kilometers down to the beautiful blue lagoon of Ölüdeniz, where we ate gözleme (like a Turkish crepe), swam in the Mediterranean and drank beers on the beach.  This was just the first day of our vacation; in retrospect, each day of our trip was equally awesome, this was just the introduction.

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Oldest Shopping Mall in the World

The other day, E and I went to the Grand Bazaar…also known as the oldest shopping mall in the world. Dating to 1461, it is part modern shopping experience with lots of crap made in China, part real authentic connection to the past, part giant tourist trap.

This is an experience not to be missed, and best to be approached with an open mind. Many people will offer to show you their wares, and most will back off with a polite ‘no thank you’. However, if you are interested in local interactions, a friendly conversation can result in interesting historical stories (though who knows where the truth lies), and frequently a few handy Turkish words and phrases in your back pocket.

For me, the wealth and most interesting parts of the Grand Bazaar are the really old areas, the little secrets that can be found, and the photos to be had.  Enjoy!

 

 

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