Friday, March 30, 2012


Inevitably in every persons time living abroad, there comes those AHAH moments, and there are those where you are left scratching your head, mouth gaping.

Turkish culture is one of the most beautiful in the world. The hospitality is honestly unsurpassed in any country. People here go out of there way to help foreigners, and not for a payoff or a benefit. Turks are generous almost to a fault! They give and give. And there is beauty in the honest help they provide. The list could go on and on for pages.

But at the same time, living in this culture for a time, there are certain cultural nuances that one simply cannot get used to.

Understand it? Yes. 
Accept it? Yes. 
Laugh at it? Usually 
Appreciate it? Probably not! 
Get used to it? Never

The one thing here that I honestly cannot really get, really accept or not get upset by? The custom Turks have of telling you how they feel about your personal appearance, personality or general person. Including but not limited to:

You didn't sleep, did you? Your eyes look dark with big bags.  
Your clothes aren't very nice today. 
You look fat today. 
What happened? You look awful! 
Did you mean to dye your hair that color? Do you like it? It looks strange. 

I always blush. I always get flustered and I always am hurt by it. I had an incident this week with a Turkish friend. I honestly was at the end of my patience for comments like these. When his comment hit a quite sensitive note, I just sighed loudly, said a "really?!?!" and walked away, afraid of what might come out had I stayed. Two minutes later I returned and talked to my friend. "Are you upset?" he asked. Yes! I blurted! In my culture, that is SO rude. Now you must know, this guy is a favorite of mine- a great guy and has a genuine good heart. He is the epitome of caring and kind, and he's been nothing but helpful to me all year long. Suffice it to say, he was shocked. Literally shocked.

In Turkish culture, there is honestly nothing rude with remarks like these. It is completely normal, acceptable and accepted by those who receive it. Everyone says things like this, quite often. It was quite a shock when I explained to my friends that this is highly inappropriate in American culture as small talk. In Turkey, telling someone they look awful is a way of striking up a conversation. This is probably the one thing, I cannot wrap my mind around. The one sensitive thing that I cannot get used to.

Any Turks out there reading this, care to shed some light on this culture difference?
Different opinions out there?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

the Sumela Monastery

Originally one of my list of the top 3 destinations I hoped to venture to while in Turkey, the Sumela Monastery didn't disappoint. They say it is worth the travel. For thousands of years, Europeans and famous travelers have made their way to this Black Sea coastal town to view the famous Monastery nestled within the Black Mountains. People told their tales to others who passed on the stories of this church city built into the mountain side. The first time I glanced a picture of the whimsically isolated place, I knew any trip to Turkey would be incomplete without it. 

Located in the Macka (pronounced Mach-ka) district, it is known as the Virgin Mary Monastery, built in her honor in 386 A.D. It was founded by two priests named Barnabus and Sophranios (what a name!) during the reign of Theodosius I.

The hike up to the Monastery is all uphill, and we encountered a bit of snow/ice which made for a journey full of surprising trips along the way. And by trips, I mean falling. To get to the Monastery, you can either drive up (pay a small fee) or walk up the side-way of the mountain, with a path there to guide you. It provided some stunning views on the way up, especially of the Black Mountains. But the real treasure is walking down the same road as the cars, that is where the money shots are. The views are stunning from across the valley, which seems to lift the monastery up into the middle of the mountain, as if resting on some invisible cloud.

Once you climb the last set of stairs into the monastery, you are greeted by a view of beautifully constructed stone-built buildings rising before your eyes in a whitewash against the dark, smokey blackness of the mountains out of which the area is carved. There is a library, a dining room, a kitchen, a chapel and several other rooms. Many are preserved with colorful frescos. Most of the frescoes weren't added until the 19th century but some date all the way back to the 17th century! The frescoes illustrate different biblical scenes and beautiful looming portraits of both Jesus and Mary. In fact, the fresco of Jesus was pretty close to how I imagine he truly looked like. We took hundreds of photos in every which way, trying to catch the beauty of the place- which was of course, impossible. The sky was an electric light blue with clouds puffy enough to make you think of cotton candy. The peaks of the mountains were drizzled with bits of snow, creating the perfect contrast with the fur green forests enveloping the mountainsides. I always thought it'd be something magnificent to be a nun- how challenging- both intellectually and spiritually. Though alas, I am clearly not suited for that profession.

The fresh mountain air abounded. On our way back down, we walked the long way, dodging cars along the way. The views were breathtaking. We ended up hitching a bit of the way down to avoid walking through all the snow at the top, but made our drivers pull over to take a picture of the stunning view. As a group decision, we decided we'd walk the rest of the way down, fearing a bit for our lives, the way these crazy old men were driving down the mountainside. All 3km down, we skipped, laughed and general merriment ensued. When we finally got on the dolmus we all passed out, exhausted by our little adventure.

How to Get to the Sumela Monastery: 

  • Getting up to the Sumela Monastery is quite easy. There are several shuttle buses that leave from the city center of Trabzon. It only costs twenty turkish lira for a round trip (which happens to be about an hour bus ride on the dolumus) 
  • Hire a private taxi (will probably run you about 50/60 turkish lira)
  • I wouldn't suggest renting a car...too much effort and money. 

Swinging from the trees  
the view of the Monastery from the hike up 
Making it to the top! (The old aqueduct behind me)

Best friends 

the view of the village down below 

the Sumela community 

frescoes from the 19th and 17th centuries 

the Christ figure 


the amazing group of people we went with! 

electric blue sky 

the view from the walk back down 

Ash, Me, Whitney and her friend 

even farther, you can see the Monastery looking like a shelf in the mountain

Monday, March 26, 2012

Trabzon, City by the Sea

The waters shimmer form the bright sunshine. The city is decorated with statues of copper boats and dolphins joyously splashing in the gushing waters. A unique city, even among Turkish cities, Trabzon is a combination of the airs of old Turkish cities with cobbled streets and ancient walls left behind after centuries of conquests, and a a modern city of bustling traffic and fast food chains.

It was one of the first cities where after staying for a few days, I was jealous. Jealous of not living in a city by the sea with views of the Black Sea from the classrooms. Comparing a city like Trabzon to Duzce is like trying to compare New York and Gainesville. There are pluses in both cities, but there is no real comparison when it comes to culture, music, art and immersion. Famous for its Black Sea setting, fish and the Sumela Monastery, Trabzon dazzled me! We stayed with John Klingler a great Fulbrighter living there. When we arrived by plane on Friday night, the twinkling lights burning brightly in the homes of Trabzonians greeted us immediately.  After chowing down, we had a relaxed evening and slept early that night, prepping for our intense day of sight-seeing on Saturday.

Saturday morning was epic. We ate breakfast on a quaint bit of bright green grass and gravel adjacent to the Hagia Sophia museum of Trabzon. We had an al-fresco lunch overlooking the glazed blue waters of the Black Sea. We tried several regional specialties including koymak- a concoction of corn flower, butter and cheese that you must spoon in a particular way to achieve the desired consistency. Also famous for butter (yes, butter!) we tried the famous butter with ayva (quince) fruit jam. Apparently this fruit is not found in America but we have attributed an English name to this exotic fruit. It looks like a combination between an apple and a pear but has a bite to it. We relaxed and basked in the new rays of spring sunshine in the fresh beginning of the season. The gloriousness of the weather usurped the rest of the day. It reigned it all its regal beauty.

the Hagia Sophia Museum in Trabzon

the Bell Tower

famous Trabzon butter 

famous kuymak- the corn meal breakfast dish!

a deliciously fluffy omlet called "kaygana" that tastes almost as sweet as waffles! 

Me and Ash 

the frescoes restored 

the inside of the museum

the view of the Black Sea


Yemeni Women Fight for their Rights

A good friend of mine lives in Yemen and is helping women find and develop their voices. This video is an attempt to publicize their efforts and encourage Yemeni broadcast stations to broadcast these issues and encourage open dialogue about these issues. Take a minute to watch the video.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Bosphorus Cruise

On Saturday, my two best friends, Ashlyn and Becky andmyself took a Bosphorus Cruise Tour. Leaving from the European side of Istanbulat Eminonou for only 25TL, you get a 4-hour ferry ride and a 3 hour romp on alittle village next to the Black Sea. Other companies do the tour for cheaper,but it is much shorter as well. Plan to spend a full day adventure, about 6/7hours. Our ferry left at 10:30am with the tickets selling out by 9:50!

The boat ride is rather magnificent. With both coveredsections and sections of the boat exposed to the elements, we were lucky enough to sitoutside and enjoy the warm sunshine, basking in the bright light and views ofthe shoreline. Everything from tiny boathouses and summer villas to loomingcastles are within plain view. The seagulls follow the boat, swooping up anddown with the currents of the wind, waiting to tail-dive to catch a piece ofbread thrown by the children. The children whoop with laughter, delighted theseagulls take an interest in their little sport of throwing bread. Men walkaround the ship selling tea, simit (little circle shaped, sesame coveredbreads) and fresh yogurt from the world famous yogurt village! Called MesurKanlica Yogurt, this famous yogurt boasts a thick layer of cream coating thetop of the yogurt. And just to top it all of, they provide little packets of powdered sugar to sweeten the deal! A huge yogurt cup for only 2TL! (Just do it!) 

We disembarked at Anadolu Kavagi, the last stop on the boattour and our destination. Having done this tour two years prior, on my firstvisit to Istanbul, I had repeat deja-vu the entire trip. I have a photographicmemory, and for that reason can easily navigate any city I’ve previously beento, if I’ve seen that place. Navigating the little side streets of the tinyvillage was a breeze. The houses leaning against the shores of the water, withhidden little boathouses underneath the house it self brought me immediatelyback. Dozens of fresh fish restaurants lined the streets and their vendorscalled out to their newly arrived ferry riders. Local craftsmen sold strings ofhand carved necklaces and works of art were proudly displayed in brightlycolored wooden cases, painted warm summer colors of topaz, royal blue, plum andcoral. We bought beautiful pieces of jewelry and proceeded to indulge in somelunch. Having balik ekmek (fish bread) in Istanbul is a MUST for any visitor.The fish vendors grill up the fish in front of you and flick the bones out inless than twenty seconds. They slop on some onions, salad and seasoning, andyou’ve got yourself a sandwich! 

We made our way up to the castle sitting atop the hill overlooking the Black Sea. It is my favorite view of Istanbul. A panoramic view of the mouth of the Black Sea and the villages of Istanbul trailing all the way until the Black Sea- the view cannot be beat. A backdrop of an old castle, which you can climb, buffers the view of the crystal blue sky, the lusciously green hills and the sparkling crystalline waters of the Bosphorus. We sat atop the the crumbling wall of surrounding the castle and drank in the beauty of the view before us. It was one of those moments in life where nothing is anything but perfect. Life is all a tapestry of beautifully painted colors, emotions and experiences. At the moment, life was blissful. 

Our sail back to Eminonou was one of laughter and memories.The suns rays coated the boat like a layer of frosting, enveloping us in thelong awaited warmth of spring. An hour and a half later, we disembarked againand began another adventure around Sultanahmet. If you have a full day while inIstanbul, I highly recommend a Bosphorus cruise- it is always the highlight ofmy time in Istanbul. There is something mystically entrancing about sailingalong the shores of thousands of years of history and slowly gliding by.  

Dolmabahce Palace, waterfront view 

making our way up the Boshporus

Fishing villages line the coasts

a Stunning view of the Black Sea 

Turkish flag waving proudly 

my other halves- even if you can only have one... I  have three.

the ruined castle

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Turkish Names

As anyone who has studied another language will tell you, the most amusing part of learning another language is the ridiculous translations you often produce, as an equivalent to your mother tongue. While in Turkey, I have noted, and giggled to myself many a time, in the silly little translations that are used in everyday Turkish. In English, they just don't work.

For a good chuckle to the English translations, see below: 
[Some are first names for people, others are city names]

The funniest include:
Yunus Emre: Happy Dolphin (First name, Surname)
Baris Can Cicek: Peace life flower 
Beyköy: Man Village 
Some of my students, fellow colleagues and I at our holiday party
Bolu: city (city= the actual name of a city) 
Balikesir: fish prisoner/captive (city) 
Büyükyoncalı: large shamrock (city) 
Duygu: feeling 
Ipek: silk 
Guneş: sun (surname)
Garip: strange, bizarre, weird
Batman (yes, it is the name of a city) 

The most beautiful include:
Nurcan: light-soul
Damla: water-drop
Cansu: the life-water
Tatlisu: sweet-water (city) 
Konca: bud 

Names in Turkey are a different phenomenon then they are elsewhere. In fact, surnames weren't common in Turkey until 1934 when Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic passed a law that mandated the creation of surnames. Thus, when people created names, they had leeway to choose the names they wanted. It makes a person wonder how much impact a name can have on a life. If you went through life with the name Honey Bee, would it influence your disposition, or others perception of you? If I had a friend called Honey Bee, I think I would subconsciously think of her as sweeter, than say, a person named "bizarre/strange." Though, in the end, I think Turkish culture has concocted some intensely adorable names. My very favorite is Damla, a water drop, which is a girls name. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Istanbul's Secret Calm

My friends have come to Turkey! This week I was ecstatic to have two of my very best friends visit me over on this side of the world. Thankfully, I have been extremely busy, caught in a whirlwind of merriment and laughter. Absolutely no complains. But for my readers, I have been woefully unproductive. Though I  can promise a flurry of lusciously exciting blogs coming up, I thought I would share my very favorite thing in Istanbul.

Though Istanbul is full of eateries, clubs, river-side strolls, throngs of people and shopping galore, my very part/time/place in Istanbul is all the same. In my opinion, the city is at its finest on Sunday morning before 8:30am. Every weekend, though sleeping in is oh-so-tempting, I can't help but rise to meet the dawn, along with the early-rising fishermen along the wharf. The mornings are always gloriously bright, when reflective specks shine off the water, where on the cold wooden bench, I sit mesmerized watching the lull and pull of the fishermen, reeling in their catch and calmly biding their time for that perfect moment. All is quiet, all is still.  

There is something magical in that time. At 8:00am on a Sunday morning, Istanbul is perfect. There are no cars. There are no people. Only beauty, the Bosphorus Sea lapping gently against the docks, and a morning sun to greet the very best day of the week. That, plus a steaming hot coffee. There is no better combination. Sitting in Beyoglu, my favorite spot, adjacent to the Karakoy ferry stop by the base of Galata Tower, life is sweet. Istanbul is my favorite city in the world- full of rolling hills, art galleries, stunningly unique districts, museums, people and history- there is no city in the world quite like it. But, your trip to Istanbul is certainly incomplete without an early morning spent by the seaside. It is precious time, and the only time you will ever see the city sleeping...

Good Morning Istanbul 
by the Karakoy ferry 
Watching the fishermen start the day 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

1st Mosque Designed by a Woman

şakirin camii: 
my favorite mosque. 
Sitting atop the hill of the Karacaahmet Cemetary in Üsküdar,
on the Asian side of Istanbul. The exterior was almost galactic in appearance...

 Full of splendid rays of light
Bursting bright beams of sunshine in through the expansive windows
The only mosque in all of Turkey whose designer is a woman;  Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu
It is instantly obvious that the interior designer was a woman, for a woman's gentle touch is clearly evident in this place. Gentle curves, bright colors of teal and sparkling cold and glass relfeclting the light of the windows in a million tiny shaped glass drips dancing around the chandellier of the mosque.

The chandelier is decorated by beautiful gold Arabic calligraphy and dangling tear drops.

It was a splendid sight to behold. I felt a prayer that day, as if walking into a large field opening your hands upward and just feeling a prayer. 

The most beautiful part of the mosque was how the designer chose to incorporate the separation of genders. In this mosque, the woman pray on the second story, a beautiful white fence with detailing allowing a view to the bottom floor, where the men pray. The space is open, wide, expansive and every bit as beautiful as the area where the men pray. 

There were millions of tiny tear drops decorating the mosque that allowed the light to dance around the mosque, as if cheerfully tinkling prayers illuminated the beauty of the space 

If you find yourself on the Asian side of Istanbul, or looking for something outside of the tourist parts of the city, I highly recommend a stroll through both the cemetery and a visit to the mosque. To read more about the mosque, check out the article here. The experience was highly moving. Challenge yourself with a little reflection. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Among the Dead

First stop of the day was at Karacaahmet Mezarlık, one of the largest cemeteries on the Asian side. In fact, it is so large, that street signs and numbered roads are a necessity. Cars speed through the narrow streets so quickly, an oddity considering the serenity of the place. Walking among the graves on a crisp cloudy day in March brought memories of my own grave cleaning adventures soaring back to the forefront of my mind. Graves used to bring me anxiety. Now, I find them peaceful. As though they represent the world unknown, the sweet after of the great mystery. Today in particular, I felt solace in the that place. The first spring flowers poking their blossoms out shyly, craning their blossoms toward the hidden sun, as if searching for spring. In this place, life and death are cyclical, and seem to glorify the other's presence. Death brings new life and beauty to what would otherwise only be sadness over loss. Instead, life begins anew and death quietly murmurs her blessings.

the first flower of spring 

the largest graveyard on the Asian side of Istanbul

Arabic engravings on the stone.

the traditional Turkish turban on a tombstone 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Top 6 Foods in Turkey

Admittedly a foodie, I am of the opinion that a person cannot truly grasp a culture without engaging in the culinary delights it offers. Though I still have much to taste including certain regional specialities, there are several things that a traveler to Turkey simply cannot forgo. Your visit to Turkey is incomplete without the following: (see my food chronicles page for more info!)

  1. Kunefe
    1. the mother of ALL desserts. I am known for my obsession with kunefe. I was pretty darn close to starting a kunefe website... trying kunefe in different places and rating them, so you know, all good travelers who come to Turkey would have an idea of where to go to get the very best. Because, you know, all kunefe is not equal! 
  2. Iskender Kebab
    1. the BEST kebab you will ever have. Juicy lamb meat sits atop a slice of bread with yogurt and some spices. Tomato sauce and fresh herbs top the blazing hot bowl placed in front of you! 
      1. famous in Bursa! 
  3. Baklava
    1. NO words are necessary. Baklava is the equivalent of honey coated goodness. Phyllo-dough soaked in butter, drenched in honey. Re-drenched in honey and displayed proudly in the windows of shops all over the country. Gaziantep is the most famous, where they are overflowing with pistachios. In Turkey, baklava can be filled with walnuts, pistachios, almonds, or creme. 

  4. Ayran
    1. definitely an acquired taste, but a favorite among Turks! This is a yogurty salty drink often served with kebab or street food. The fresh Ayran is the best, which bubbles in your cup like when you were a little kid and you blew bubbles in your milk! (no photo)
  5. Hamsi (grilled anchovies!) 
    1. best on the Black Sea. Hamsi are famous all along the coast of the Black Sea. You can get it fried, boiled, grilled or even served on top of a mountain of rice! The possibilities and variations are endless, just like the taste.
      1. See photo: apparently, the Turks love hamsi so much, they put their babies in buckets of the little suckers. :) 
  6. Clotted Cream 
    1. my downfall. It is SO delicious, it is only allowed on holidays. If clouds could have a taste, their taste would be the flavor of clotted cream- ultimately creamy, the perfect level of sweet, and fluffy. In my dream world, clouds taste just like this. It is often served with fresh honey for breakfast, to spread atop bread. Or, it is served on top of kunefe! The name in Turkish is "kaymak."

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