Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Sixth Turkey Epistle

 

Monday, May 26, 2014.

Merhaba!

 It is 9:15 am here in Kadikoy, we have had our usual cereal, yogurt and fruit breakfast – I am struggling with the Turkish breakfast on offer.  Laundry has been washed and is now on our drying rack. Life feels somewhat normal.

 Yesterday was interesting.  There was a demonstration on our side of the Bosphorous.  We awoke to proclamations from loud speakers then long periods of music. When we walked out to the main street to catch our ferry for church,police had erected barricades all along the street for about 4 blocks.  There were a lot of female police employees not looking particularly serious or fierce. Young people were walking to somewhere on the sidewalks carrying bullhorns and flags wrapped up around sticks. The ferries were running normally so we were happy to get to the other side.

We wandered back into our favourite neighbourhood called Galata and went to a lovely little shop where the shop keeper is a true gentleman in all the meanings of the word(s). We bought some wool and silk scarves made in Turkey. He allowed us a small discount. I don’t even feel like negotiating in this area because all the prices seem so reasonable. Being at the Spice Bazaar the other day was such a shock – the slimy demeanour of the shopkeepers, the purposefully high prices, and all the “stuff”.  When I leave my favourite two shops in Galata I feel “clean”. Does that make sense?

Church was interesting. We know a few people and therefore greet and are greeted. Engin is warm and charming. For the third Sunday in a row Engin let someone else preach. The first Sunday was an American woman who is one of his wardens, the second Sunday 3 American missionaries spoke,and yesterday we heard to a very basic message by a fellow from All Souls Langham Place, London. They have a preaching course for lay people. He was a lovely man, sincere and a lovely Christian believer. Murray is preaching this Sunday because Engin and a few others from church are going to Italy for a few days.

 We have set up tentative arrangements with a number of people for coffee dates because so many of the young people live near us. Ros had asked me to go the the Grand Bazaar with her to help her buy fabric to make an outfit for a wedding.

She has a pair of purple linen pants and would like to have a tunic top to match. I don’t know what her comfort level is for drama but I would love to take her to my scarf shop to buy one of their lovely shawls to complete the outfit.

We’ll see – it should be fun. 

Returning from church we had to pass through cordons of heavily armed, fierce looking police complete with tear gas canisters, plexiglass shields and all manner of protective gear. There were two separate groups of them. I wanted to get beyond them as soon as we could but I noticed that the locals were completely oblivious – shopping and visiting as if nothing unusual was going on.

We escaped to Galata and relaxed in an absolutely amazing coffee bar. It was the lobby of a small, very chic hotel. The decor was wild – cartoonesque pictures in vibrant colours and very cheeky. Two small tables outside, 2 inside, 2 little groupings around tiny round tables and a wild orange sofa. We sat on the sofa eating a piece of apple cheesecake with limonata (me), Turkish coffee (Murray) – served on delightful dishes (you know how much I love that). After I went to the washroom the waitress came over with the loveliest hand cream. It was divine.

 We are at breakfast with an amazing collection of people – a Jordanian guy with his teenage son, and 3 Americans – the father is a minister from the States and he is here with his 3 adult children. The daughter has lived here before and would like to get a work permit to teach English. She is currently living on a farm outside Cairo. It is a Coptic retreat centre and sounds fascinating.

The Jordanian, Mohammed, had an interesting take on the Turkish mentality and situation. He said, 25 years ago Istanbul was dump. It was dirty, nothing worked, water didn’t run and when it did it wasn’t clean, corruption was rampant – about 90%. Now, the Turkish economy is one of the best in the world, the city is clean and things run well, corruption is down to about 10%. I don’t know what they are complaining about. They blame the government for everything and I don’t think that is fair. 

The Minutia of Life

1. Housekeeping: Three lovely women clean all the rooms here. We are entitled to daily cleaning but that seems excessive so we ask them to come in twice a week. Everything gets changed including the duvets! I could get used to this.

2. The elevator: This remarkable piece of equipment is a mere 2’ x 3’. It technically can hold 3 people but that would be a pretty cosy arrangement. Even though we are only on the second floor we use it because the lights are motion sensitive in the stairwells and you are part way down the winding staircase in pitch darkness before the lights come on.

3. Our street: It is quite short and has 2 parking lots (where you can have your car washed), 2 fresh fruit and vegetable stands, an all male coffee shop, tailor/laundry shop, real estate agent, 2 hotels and 5 or 6 apartment blocks. There is a turkish bath at the end – I should probably check it out but it looks a little foreboding.

4. Bars and clubs: The north/south street at the end of ours is full of bars for men only. During the day it is fine but I would not like to be by myself at night. Women go to the cafes and restaurants along the main street and in the market.

5. Short dresses: It seems to be permissible to wear above the knee skirts and dresses now that it is so warm – not in mosques or churches but for daily life it is ok.

6. McDonalds serves a Turkish breakfast as well as the standard Egg McMuffin – scrambled eggs, white cheese, cucumber, olives, tomato and an English Muffin! I am impressed by their adaptability.

The Delights

finding food samples at the large store store in the big mall. I discovered a delicious cake and learned that the dish I thought was sausages ( and had cooked) was some sort of vegetarian concoction that you eat cold!

 “borrowing” books from the Toronto library to read on my iPad. I alternate between books set in Istanbul and familiar Western authors such as P.D. James, Jennifer Worth and Miriam Toews.

Traffic

We are getting the hang of negotiating traffic here. There are no stop signs at the end of regular streets. Cars round corners carefully – pedestrians need to be prepared to give way all the time. On major streets there are traffic lights although sometimes, as a pedestrian, you need to press a button to activate the green light.

It is fascinating to watch the locals navigate street crossing. It is similar to watching couples dance – each partner anticipating the movements of the other. The one rule seems to be that if you are going to go for it don’t hesitate.

If traffic stops because of congestion then everyone starts  cutting through – I always give the driver a little wave just make sure he has seen me.

Horns

Turks use their horns to communicate with everyone. Generally they do not honk in anger. These are gentle little honks which seem to say “Okay, stop, because I am going to start driving”. It’s pretty noisy but not annoying.

Ice Cream

Buying ice cream on the street is so much fun. The vendors are clever, very skilled showmen. When you order your ice cream, they dig into the solid mass with a long stainless stick with a spoon on the end. Then they place a glob on the cone, go to give it to , snatch it back, put the glob back into the container, pull out the whole glob, replace it, bring out a small glob, pretend to flip it, put it back on a cone, give you an empty cone, and so it continues with you reaching for the thing over and over only to have it pulled back. By the time you finally get the ice cream and cone together you are in a fit of laughter.

The Opera House

Tonight we got all dressed up to go to the Opera House to hear a concert. We were very excited – but when we got there it was in total darkness and the doors were locked. The concert had been cancelled due to the disaster in Soma. The Turks feel deeply about injustices. Fortunately, we can get our money back but then we had to decide on a plan B. It isn’t too difficult to find something fun to do so we wandered around the market area until we found a restaurant that looked interesting. There are thousands and thousands of restaurants and cafes. How they all survive is a mystery. Waiters stand outside each place welcoming you to their place – there is a real art to refusing – one that I don’t think we have mastered yet.

We finally settled on a kebab place. I was delighted to find a very thin Turkish pizza which I had remembered from our previous visits. The evening was perfect so we felt very proud of ourselves for having rescued what might have been a disappointing time.

 

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The Fifth Turkey Epsitle

Monday, May 19, 2014 was Youth Day in Turkey and a national holiday. Usually children and young people participate in special programs in stadiums but these events were cancelled because of the recent demonstrations about the mine disaster in Soma.  On my way to the gym I saw a woman selling Turkish flags and I was a little nervous about how the day might unfold. Happily there were no incidents and people had a great time. The streets and parks were full of families and young people celebrating a day off.

 On the promenade entrepreneurial fellows created grids of balloons set up on the breakwater and you could try your hand at popping them with either a pistol or small rifle ( I was a little uneasy about the optics given recent events).  One man set up his candy floss machine in the back of his station wagon, women sold bird food, others sold tea from portable thermoses. Later in the evening we sat on a bench and listened to a jazz trio rehearsing – heavenly.

Tea

Tea in Turkey is extremely important and there is a very definite way to drink it.  First of all, it is ‘stewed’.  There are two ‘kettles’ – one on top of the other. The tea is in the top kettle and it is kept hot all day by water simmering in the bottom kettle. Needless to say, the tea is very strong. When we first arrived I didn’t realize this and poured the tea into my cup and started to drink. Poor Mustafa nearly had a fit. What you are to do is pour only about a third of a cup of tea and then fill up with boiling water. When you order tea or cay (pronounced chai) the waiter will often ask what degree of sweetness you want.

Another kind of tea is called bitki tea – grass tea or weed tea!  It is green tea leaves served either in a tea ball or a bodum. I don’t think Turks are too impressed with it gathering from the reaction I get.

Security

A concern everyone had when we were planning on coming here was security – on a national and also on a personal level. Personally, and by that I mean fear of pickpockets, etc,, I have not seen anything to cause concern. Locals do not seem to take any extra precautions – they operate the same way people in Canada do and that is comforting.  Nationally things seem to have quieted down. We even went out in the evening to have a drink at a cafe and all was quiet.

Mark had introduced us to his favourite cafe and the waiter Mojo – short for Mohammed. So this has become our cafe too! When we were there the other evening I felt quite sorry for Mojo. He is so thin, smokes quite heavily, and stands outside the cafe trying to attract business. This particular evening he was sporting a black eye – I didn’t want to think about how that might have happened. As we were settling the tab I suddenly said to him, ‘You are a lovely man”. He didn’t understand what I had said but his nephew interpreted  and Mojo broke out into the biggest smile – an all over kind of smile. Goodness knows why I was impelled to say what I said but it gave him such pleasure that I’m glad I did.

The Fourth Turkey Epistle

Demonstrations

Some of you may be wondering about all the demonstrations taking place here.  So far, whenever we have been over to the European side near Taksim Square there has been a small demonstration of some sort – and usually only involving about a dozen people or so. We avoid going near them so have been unaffected. Mark’s take is that there are always some people waiting for a cause. However, yesterday was different.  We were away for a whole day and as a result were pretty tired when we got home and decided not to go out for our evening walk.  It was a good thing because there was a demonstration quite near us. The crowd was protesting the terrible conditions that caused the recent mining disaster and the police finally used tear gas to disperse them.  We heard a big ‘boom’ but at the time didn’t know what it was. Later several guests came in who had been affected by the gas and again this morning others were talking about it. 

The next evening in Moda, the area where all the little cafes and coffee shops are located ( and the location of ancient Calcedon of church councils fame) was invaded by riot police shooting off tear gas. Apparently all of this was done without provocation. We now go for our evening walk along the promenade near the water. We are careful but not fearful. 

Galata

On Thursday we went to the European side to meet Ros from the church for tea and dessert. She forgot!! So we had our tea, waited for a small demonstration to end, and walked to the Galata Tower. This is a stone structure built by the Genoese as part of their fortification system in 1348.  It is one of those structures that is a must see – so we went! It has been restored beautifully. Elevators take you up a considerable way to the top and then there is a bit of a climb to the look out. The view of old Istanbul and all the waterways is very impressive and we were fortunate that the day was perfect. There are 2 restaurants at the top so we decided to complete the experience by having coffee (M) and limonata(D).

However, the best part of the day was exploring the streets around the tower.  The streets are narrow and quite steep – to get into one shop I had to brace myself by holding onto the door frame. The shops offer very unusual handcrafted items so are far more interesting than those selling predictable souvenirs. Lavishly embroidered bed covers, leather purses, boots and slippers and scarves of silk and fine wool were just a few of the things for sale. One street only sold musical instruments  it is very much an artists community and the crowds reflect that.  I can hardly wait to go back and just ‘be’ in the community for a while.

The Search for Church

Friday we were back at the Chora Museum to pick up my sister-in-law’s famous missing tile – SUCCESS!!! What a glorious feeling of satisfaction. But, then, the search was on to find 2 churches – ones that had eluded us on Wednesday – St. Mary of the Mongols and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

With our trusty map we decided to head cross country through the winding streets to save time – BIG mistake! We got hopelessly lost because: 1. there are no street signs, 2. our map is short on detail, and 3. no one we asked had a clue how to help us but tried anyway. Finally Murray , who has a great sense of direction, decided the best thing to do was head toward the Golden Horn and start all over again.

Arriving at the Bulgarian Church (from yesterday), we met another shoe shine entrepreneur and guess what? He dropped his brush ….

We arrived within what the map showed to be the vicinity of St. Mary’s but for the life of us could not find it. When we were reading up about Turkey we were told that the Turks have such a strong sense of hospitality that even if they haven’t got a clue where something is they will make it up. One lady with grandiose gestures indicated that we were to go straight ahead turning neither to the left nor to the right – so we did arriving at the point where we had started an hour earlier. Turning around we retraced our steps until we asked an older man if he knew where the church was. Well, he certainly did (why was I not convinced). He took us to a street corner and told us to go down it for about a kilometre and it would be on our left. My feet were not impressed, however we didn’t have a better plan so off we set. About half way down we asked someone else and he assured us it was 500 meters away. Bingo – there it was. A decrepit wall with two ancient underwhelming doors with a little inscription overhead in Greek. Fortunately Murray can read Greek and we had finally found St. Mary’s of the Mongols.

Seems that in the 13th c. an Emperor married off his illegitimate daughter to a Mongolian Sultan.  When he died she returned to  Turkey and founded this church.  It’s now a Greek Orthodox Church, quite small.  You can imagine this little group of faithful Greeks worshipping there Sunday by Sunday.

Once through the gates we entered a little courtyard and there was the church – quite small and very ancient. A young boy called out to us and with much hand gesturing we were able to let him know we wanted to see the church. His mother came out of her little apartment with the gigantic key and he let us in. They couldn’t speak a word of English but patiently waited while we walked around and had a good look. It was small, not particularly beautiful but interesting. It must have once been attached to a monastery because there were about 2 dozen monk’s chairs.The little guy’s name was John and we thought he and his mother were probably Greek Orthodox.  Murray gave the lady some money and she promptly gave it to her son – obviously  this was his job.  Just the sweetest experience.

Tost Cheesed

By this time we were exhausted and decided to reward our efforts by stopping at a cute little cafe we had passed. Sitting down I ordered pastry with cheese and Murray asked for tost cheesed. The little waitress was about 12 or 14 and trying out for the role of most grumpy waitress in Istanbul. Usually I find it challenging to get a smile out of grumpy people but quite frankly couldn’t be bothered.

Finally, Miss Grumpy brought our order. My pastry with cheese was absolutely delicious!! Tender, flakey layers of phllo with delicious warm cheese -yummmmm.  Poor Murray – tost cheesed was dry toast with room temperature melted, tasteless cheese. This is what is sold on the ferries. I did share my pastry with cheese with him (see the halo).

Then a huge 1958 or 1959 red and white Ford Fairlaine drove up and out popped a gorgeous model in an amazing outfit and a couple of photographers. They were obviously doing a photo shoot.  The driver of the Ford backed it up into a narrow side street, tail fins and chrome gleaming. How he managed to get that thing through those streets is a wonder.

Wandering up the street from the cafe we stumbled onto the Greek Patriarchate. A very natty looking fellow allowed us to enter the compound and there was the church! Inside 5 deacons and a priest were conducting evening prayer.  The service was quite wonderful with the 5 young men chanting the service in their deep voices and looking quite fierce in their black robes, black hats and various degrees of dark facial hair. It was very solemn and serious – in fact one of the ushers came and let me know I was not to cross my legs!  The priest went into the Holy of Holies (my words) and chanted his part – I had never seen that before. It was all so very somber…. Then the service ended and the deacons started to laugh – one of them taking out his phone! Under all that dark mystery were just 5 young guys!!!

The place was utterly amazing -1720  – a medium sized building exquisitely decorated. What a privilege!

The Gym

Saturday I went back to the gym. Another personal trainer. Another form to be filled out. But then it got better. This young lady put me on the treadmill for 45 minutes, the elliptical for 20 minutes and the bicycle for 20 minutes. I thought I was going to collapse – especially after having walked 5 hours the day before!  I did cheat tho ‘ – she had set the tension at about 4 on all the machines and I dropped it down to 1. When that was all done she led me through some stretches. The good news is that if I attend one more assessment session then I can attend classes!!!  She was a lovely girl and shared that she has a lot of worries and doesn’t sleep much. She and her family have lived in Istanbul for 10 years and don’t like it – too dangerous!

I walked home – slowly – had an orange and collapsed into bed for an hour!!

The Third Turkey Epistle

Today we decided to return to St. Saviour in Chora or Kariye Camii. This church, after Haige Sophia is the most interesting Byzantine church in Istanbul. The name ‘Chora” means in the country because it originally was outside the Constantinian walls.Later it was included within the Theodosian walls parts of which are still evident.

The church’s main claim to fame is a series of magnificent mosaics and frescoes depicting the whole life and ministry of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the early church fathers. It has been beautifully restored by the Byzantine Institute of America.  

Although this was our 4th visit to the church it was the first time we were not on a schedule. Using the book “Strolling Through Istanbul” we were able to spend 2 hours going over every mosaic and fresco, following the sequences as the artist intended. The artist is unknown but was in the same era and league as Giotto in Italy. The detail was unbelievable – delicate renderings of faces and clothing. There is so much movement in the scenes you can almost see feet running over the roads.

On our last trip to Turkey, Murray’s sister and her husband came with us. At a shop outside this church they bought a set of tiles which they took home to have framed but when they got home discovered that one was missing.  What a disappointment. Several times they tried to get another one using various emissaries but to no avail.  Well, this was a challenge so I had Mary send me a picture of the tiles minus one and, then, I went to the shop and voila the salesman was able to go the factory and get a replacement. 

After a light lunch we walked back to the ferry via the walk that follows the entire Golden Horn.  We were looking for some ancient churches but unfortunately one was obviously no longer in use and the other was under renovations.

Saints and Sinners

We have been so blessed by the kindness of strangers. Whenever we are struggling with trying to figure something out, a kind person emerges to help.  We do not take these kindnesses lightly.

However ……  we did encounter one of the world’s sinners. When we were heading towards one of the churches on our list we passed a shoe shine guy. Just after he passed us one of his brushes fell on the sidewalk and he didn’t notice. Murray ran after him to return the brush. Well our little sinner pretended great gratitude and made out to offer us a free shoe shine as a thank you. When the half baked job was done Murray took out his wallet to give him something. Our sinner grabbed the money from the wallet. Murray was really ticked and the guy returned some took some and in the end I haven’t a clue how much he got. It was like watching the guy at the circus hiding a pea under a cup. Usually these guys tell you a sad tale of having 7 children but this one was more temperate and only had 3!!

Dressing in Turkey

One of my concerns before coming here was what I should wear as a woman.  Well it seems as though almost anything goes. In our neighbourhood you see everything except ultra orthodox Muslim attire. Advertising is very risqué which surprised me. Women can be very Western with skirts above the knees , and now with warmer weather, shorts and mini skirts are making their appearance. Most commonly you will find women wearing fairly modest outfits – pants (tight jeans for example) and a top with or without a scarf. I am very comfortable in leggings and a long t-shirt for example.

In the conservatives areas the situation is entirely different. Advertising shows women in long coats and tunics and the shops on street level display what we associate with Muslim dress. However, on the upper stories shops where the streets concentrate on wedding and evening clothes you will see everything from above knee cocktail dresses to wedding dresses that billow about the bride covering her from head to toe complete with a full head covering. It’s fascinating.

The Gym

I finally joined a gym. I chose The Beautyland Spor Club. They leave the ’t’ off sport!  It is for women only and I can buy a membership by the month. I was looking forward to taking Pilates and participating in a couple of dance classes BUT somewhere things have been lost in translation and I need to have an assessment that can take a week or 2 before a plan is made for me.

My trainer took me to the gym and started me on the treadmill for 30 minutes.  This wasn’t so bad because I was overlooking a park and beyond that the Marmara Sea. Then she put on the bike with orders not to do less than 20 kph. After that i was told to go and I couldn’t return until Friday!! I don’t know how I’m going to deal with our very different expectations.

Leaving the gym I decided to cross the road over to the park and then to the seawall. As luck would have it Murray was heading home from having walked west along the sea wall so we continued together.  We came to a set of workout machines on the seawall. It appears the community has put these devices in clusters along the seawall to encourage fitness especially among children.  This morning we put our exercise clothes on and worked out on them for an hour. No need for a gym!  It is about a 20 minute walk from our hotel so all in all it is a good workout. Our view was the water and in the distance The Koptaki Palace, Haige Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Food

Food is a big issue. First we have had to figure out where to buy, what to buy and how to negotiate the labels. So far I have settled on tomatoes and cucumbers with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. dolmatas, kofte (a spiced beef kebab), yogurt and cucumber, roasted eggplant, onions, mushrooms and fresh garlic.  We did buy something called Manti-Ye Etli Bohca.  Ros had it when we went for supper on Sunday. It is little pieces of dough pinched around minute pieces of cooked minced beef. I saw it in the meat counter. What I need to know was how to make the sauce that went with it. Again, a kind lady overheard our efforts to ask the butcher how to prepare it and she came over. Apparently we boil the dough bits much like ravioli and then we use yogurt with fresh garlic and olive oil. We’ll see.

Neighbours

We have a lovely couple in the next apartment to us. they are Palestinians working in Saudi but on holiday here. They are a young couple with 2 little children – a girl about 6 and a little guy about 4. The walls are quite thin and it is very moving to hear this devout Muslim man chanting his prayers.

We continue to meet people from all over the world – what a colourful patchwork of guests.

Mark

Mark continues to be an important person in our lives.  Last night we took him out for a drink to celebrate a successful presentation of his thesis topic to his committee. He is comparing the influence of Islam on Christian architecture in Istanbul with the influence of Christianity on Islamic architecture in Spain. I think its fascinating – however, he knows absolutely nothing about Christianity! So he wants to pick Murray’s brain.

I had better stop!!!  Until the next instalment.

The Second Turkey Epistle

The hardest thing about being on Sabbatical right now is keeping days of the week and times straight. Our phones are now displaying local time so that is a great help.

Talking about phones – let me tell you. Before leaving Toronto I spent nearly 8 hours unlocking our phones to be able to use them here with a Turkish SIM card. However, in order to protect their own technology, Turkey imposes a high tax on all foreign phones. The rates quoted to us by tourists is from $30 each to $75 each.  So far we have opted to do nothing. We can use the hotel phone for local cars. Eventually we will figure this all out. The hotel is still figuring out it’s wireless service!!!

Friday – May 9, 2014

Murray decided we should attempt a dry run at finding Cafe Nero where we are to meet Engin on Sunday before going to his church.  Well “dry run” wasn’t the most apt adjective as it was POURING rain. We got on the ferry ( a first) to cross to the European side. When we got there we were trying to find the tunnel that Engin mentioned in his email. We walked around, getting thoroughly soaked, for about an hour asking numerous people where to find this tunnel. It was actually Tunel – a 139 year old subway. In the end a fellow asked if we could speak German . Murray had studied German at Summer School in 1968 so the two of them managed to communicate and we finally found the Tunel.  What we didn’t know is that we had taken the wrong ferry and therefore got off at the wrong terminal.

We finally reached the correct destination and discovered we were on the famous Istiklal Caddesi. An exciting and eclectic place. Through the rain we finally found Cafe Nero where we were happy to sit and have something hot to drink. We started talking to the young couple beside us. Like us they were hiding out from the rain.  They were from The Hague on a quick visit to Istanbul. He was a medical doctor doing research on an expedited way to create a flu vaccine and she was a history teacher. They were delightful and we talked about a wide variety topics from Immigration to theology.  Finally, with great reluctance we parted.  It was a good thing that we did this ahead of time.

Food

 I learned to never order a chicken kebab from a fast food place. By the time it reaches you it is dry and tasteless. And then there is the ever present white bread with no butter. The local drink called Aryan is very sour yogurt. I suppose it is an acquired taste.

The oysters I mentioned before are actually stuffed clams!! But I still like them.

We discovered a restaurant that serves a thin pancake filled with spinach, or cheese or meat or mushrooms or a combination of any of these. It is like a thin quesadilla. I had had one at the beach when were were in Anatolia on our last trip to Turkey and had never forgotten it.  In this instance, a rather generous sized woman sits at a low table in the window of the restaurants rolling out the dough into large, flat pancakes (by large I mean 12 inches across). Then fillings are placed on half the pancake which is then folded over and then grilled.

Districts

One thing peculiar to this city is the “lumping” of similar establishments together. For example, on the main street nearest to us are several shops selling any and all manner of health products. Male mannequins with dotted chests to indicate hair, sport leg, arm, neck and torso braces; face masks, uniforms, canes, special shoes, etc., etc. On another street are stores displaying only wedding dresses. Last night we went for a walk and found streets where every restaurant served fish and another street that seemed to offer mostly coffee and dessert.

Saturday

On Saturday, Mark, our font of all wisdom, took us to look at 3 gyms in the area – one at the Hilton, another for women only and the third was a high energy, very business orientated place.

I want to join one to give my days some structure while Murray is studying. The women’s gym is most appealing because 1. it is small, 2. one of the employees speaks English, 3. it is bright.

Afterwards, we spent the afternoon exploring all the back streets of the market area. It is a fascinating warren of commercial activity. A street of only antiques, another of fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, meats,  and another of fabrics, etc. We get hopelessly lost but that so far is simply fun.

In one shop I asked a women about the price of some scarves and she said 40 TL. Suddenly she said to me, referring to the man in the store, he is mad at me because they are only 20 TL (OK I thought somewhat puzzled), then he said something else to her and she said, if you buy more than one he will give them to you for 15TL. Strange bargaining because so far I hadn’t said a thing.  I think the fact that it was raining meant business was slow so he was anxious to make a sale. I did buy two. They are  quite primitive – filmy squares of printed fabric – old fabrics – with embroidered strips hand sewn onto the edges. The workmanship is not particularly good but it is intriguing.

Sunday

This was the day we finally got to go to Church. It was only lightly raining on our side as we set out to take the ferry (I love taking the ferry). We now know how to figure out which ferry to take and how to use the Istanbul Kart to get on. Once on the ferry men race up and down the aisles selling chai (tea) and orange juice. You can order a breakfast type sandwich which we mean to try one day.

We arrived on the other side at the correct terminal this time and successfully met Engin and two young men from his congregation at Cafe Nero. They were studying C.S.Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” in Turkish. It seemed odd to see such a familiar book in another language. It was a warm reunion with Engin and we walked the short distance to his church past Taksim Square, the imposing British embassy, and down narrow winding streets. The church building belongs to a protestant Armenian congregation and Engin’s congregation rents it Sunday afternoon.

The congregation is fairly young although there are some older ones. The oldest is the mother of one of the young men and is 75. The worship leader is a young woman whose mother is British and father is Turkish. She speaks English with a British accent and is of course  fluent in Turkish. She was also pregnant with twins and full term. Poor thing had to sit through much of the service and when she did stand often supported her tummy with her hands.  It will be interesting next Sunday to see if she has had them.  It was interesting to be in an Anglican service totally in another language. I could recognize parts of the liturgy and guess at the meaning of words. Members of the congregation are translating the liturgy into Turkish so it is a bit of a work in progress. One of the women we met is going to email us a copy of what they have so far so we can follow it better.

We met some very interesting people. The praise group is made up of 2 singers and 2 guitarists. Ros (short for Rosamund) is a retired British school teacher. She taught in Turkey for 10 years at a British school that the government took over. Now she is living here and has a residency permit. She earned an MA in theology and is helping out at the church. Kay, the preacher that morning, is a larger than life American. I don’t know her story but I am sure that will come.  It is very laid back and easy to fit into.  

After the service a group of us went by tour bus to the Chora Museum which was an ancient church turned into a mosque and is now a museum. It has incredible mosaics and frescoes. One of the young men has trained to be a guide and took us through. It was all in Turkish but we had been there twice before and Ros had a copy of “Strolling Through Istanbul” on her Kindle so she was a great help. Afterwards we all went to an outdoor cafe for tea. We sat with a small group and I was fascinated by one of the young men. I couldn’t figure out why I was so drawn to him but I knew there was something different about him.

I started talking to him and he told me the most fantastic story. He had been a Muslim scholar and his goal was to go to the States as a missionary to convert people to Islam. He had never read the Bible (this is important). One night he had a strange dream of 3 women at an empty tomb. He was totally mystified. Shortly after that he saw an ad in a magazine offering a free copy of the New Testament. He ordered one because he thought that would be a way of being able to refute the Bible and win people to Islam. When he read the passage of the 3 women at the tomb he literally dropped the Bible in horror. From then on he attempted to disprove the resurrection. He quite rightly thought that if he could disprove the resurrection then he could prove Christianity was not true. The short story is that he couldn’t and one day, without any Christian instructions he prayed saying, I know I am probably blaspheming but Jesus I believe.

He then went on to get an MA in theology and is now on the ordination track in Engin’s church under the Bishop of Europe.

It is going to be exciting to get to know others in this strange little congregation. Keep tuned!!!

Marmara University

Sunny and warm, finally!!!

Monday was the day to find our way to Marmara University to meet Bilal, the professor Murray hopes to study with.

First of all, you need to know how much stress is involved to do everything for the first time!! We were heading over to the bus depot outside the harbour. Murray was anxious to find the right bus at the right time so we wouldn’t be late. I was concerned about not tripping over all the various obstacles the streets present as well as avoiding everything on wheels. Suddenly I realized Murray was running about half a block ahead of me (totally oblivious that I was not right behind him), We eventually got together again and boarded the bus. Murray asked directions to the university and the driver said he he would tell us when to get off. Well, the short story is, he forgot! We ended up at the end of the line and there were only 3 of us on the bus. The driver was very apologetic and told us to stay on and we started the return trip. I felt quite secure in the thought that Murray was in charge so I was enjoying people watching out the window. At one stop I suddenly spotted Murray at the front door and looked beside me to see a strange man beside me (its a good thing I hadn’t reached out to hold his hand). Murray had assumed I had seen him leave his seat. It had taken us 50 minutes to take what should have been a 10 minute trip!

We finally got to the University and waited at the gate with another person for Bilal to come and collect us. It turned out that this other person was the visiting Roman Catholic scholar we were going to hear.

Bilal was very warm and gracious, introducing us to two of his colleagues. One teaches Islamic Law and had spent 8 years in the States studying, first his MA and then a PHD. The other has his PHD from Harvard.  After lunch in the cafeteria we attended the first lecture to a small class of senior students – 5 women and one young man – a 3rd generation Turk from Germany. The lecture was a meandering presentation of the Iconoclastic period and what I felt was a confusing presentation of Christianity. Bilal finally asked Murray what the present position of the Anglican Church was on salvation. It was, for me, a very emotional moment when this intelligent, beautiful young women just ahead of me asked him to comment on the position that as Christians we say that you can only be saved by belief in Jesus. It is one thing to hold that belief in our cultural bubble but to be in the midst of these dear people and realize the implications of that statement – I think Murray handled it very lovingly.

……Whew ….Transition:

Got to love those Turks – part way through the class a young boy arrived with a tray of tea!!

First Impressions of the University

The first thing I noticed in this faculty is that 90% of the students are women. Bilal said that due to the crisis a few years ago parents were worried that their sons would not get jobs so the boys are sent off to Engineering and Medicine where employment possibilities are greater.

Secondly, this is a Muslim University so all the girls are completely covered. By this I mean they wear some sort of headscarf and a coat. Some coats are simply regular trench coats of a regular length but most are full length. Some are very ordinary – ranging from dull to ugly BUT some are simply elegant. The weather is transitional so some girls had quite substantial coats. One girl wore a black velvet creation with a front placket of satin. Others wore a fairly filmy garment that swayed beautifully as they walked. All wore no visible makeup but faces were blemish free so ….

I was curious about what was underneath the headscarf because the younger women had a different shape to theirs compared to the older women. Well I found out when I went to the washroom. A perky young girl, clad in tight jeans and a t-shirt was getting dressed. Her hair was in a high ponytail wrapped into a bun. Then what looked like a thick crocheted band was around the bun. Over her head she put on a bonnet made of something like cotton jersey. The front of the bonnet was smooth and fit over head just back of the forehead. The back of the bonnet was gathered and fit over the bun and the rest of her head. Two ties attached to the front of the bonnet were pulled to the back and tied at the nape of the neck. then scarf went on. So far I have seen these bonnets in one of 3 colours -black, white and brown.

Perils of Market Shopping

This bit will end the second epistle.

I decided I would like to shop for supper in the big open air market. We came to the first shop and i started to pick out my vegetables. Suddenly an eager man took them from me and indicated that he would do that for me. Well …. when I asked for 2 cucumbers I got 5, a few strawberries became a bagful, same with tomatoes and peppers. When we got home we realized he had thrown in basil and mint with the lettuce – and charged us of course. It all came to about $17- much more than I had thought I was going to spend. I saw the guy look at me as if to say I sure pulled a fast one on her.  He did but he’ll never see me again. I will go back to my local stand where the owner lets me do my own choosing.

Settling into Instanbul

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Flight:

Amazingly we left Toronto on time!  I couldn’t believe how efficiently the plane was loaded, passengers settled and seated, and the preliminary intros completed. We were at the start of our takeoff runway five minutes after we backed away from the gate.  Some kind of record I think.

The evening meal was awful! This is from someone who usually likes airplane food but this was ameliorated by some very tasty egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches that were available in the middle of the night. When I was choosing our sandwiches the stewardess asked if she could get me anything else and I jokingly said “Yes, a G & T”. Before I knew it she made one and delivered it to my seat.  I was embarrassed to say the least but she was very gracious. It was a little strange having it at 4 am!!!  The breakfast was delicious – a wonderful omelet with delicious hash browns, fresh fruit, etc.

Ataturk Airport:

Ah Turkey!  As soon as we left the confines of the airport building we were hit by the smell of strong Turkish cigarettes.  We knew we had arrived.  

Now the first hurdle to be confronted – getting to our hotel. Murray had arranged with our hotel to have their driver meet us but he forgot to mention that our arrival time had changed.  The owner said to take a cab – it would be about $40. So Murray went to a cab company to arrange our transportation. The guy at the counter said it would be $90. When Murray told him that we were told it would be $40 he said he couldn’t do it for any less than $80. Murray was in full throttle.  He said he would go to another cab company. The fellow said the other company’s prices would be less but only by about $8.  He didn’t know who he was dealing with. Murray turned around to walk away when all at once another employee called out to 2 young guys walking up to the counter and asked if they were going to Kadokoy (our destination). In fact they were so he said if we all went together we could split the fare – and so we did.  The 2 guys were from Montreal. One was an Air Canada employee and the other his long time school friend who was studying Mechanical Engineering at Laval. They had arrived in Toronto in the morning, rented a car, drove out to Guelph to visit a friend and then back to airport to try to get on the flight to Istanbul. If that didn’t work they were going to try the flight to Zurich and if that failed, Dublin. We had a great visit with them as our driver negotiated the crazy traffic. Once in Kadokoy he had to figure out where our hotels were because he had never been there because it not a tourist area (we thought this was good news).  It was really an adventure as he went up and down narrow streets – sometimes having to back up, retracing our route and going up the wrong way on a single lane street.  But we all arrived at our separate destinations safely.

The Hotel:

For those of you who have seen the pictures of the lobby and common area of the hotel I have to tell you it was not disappointing. It is absolutely beautiful.  Our Apartment is a little spartan but is  certainly functional and comfortable.  I asked the owner about the view and he said our room overlooked the trees at the back. This was quieter than being at the front.  Well, I need to tell you that he was right about the trees but forgot to mention the old lumber, abandoned chairs, etc. piled up in the back spaces. However, we have the rear of a wonderful old Ottoman building to look at. Our neighbours have pots of geraniums and it is quiet.

People:

I’ve told you about our 2 Canadian boys. Now let me tell you about the hotel inhabitants;

First there is Emre. He is the owner. A young guy very much like our Matt with a beautiful young wife who is an Interior Designer and is responsible for the decor of this place. They have 2 children – a 5 year old son we did not meet and an 8-month old daughter named Sare.  

She’s a sweetie and reminded me so much of Hana. 

Mustafa is the go to man. Cannot speak English but is eager to please. When we asked for a dish towel we got a red plastic basin.  Marida is a lovely young woman who is one of the cleaners. It feels like family already.

Then there are the other guests. Mark is a Jordanian fellow who has Canadian citizenship. He is doing a Master’s degree in Architecture. He, like us, is staying in the hotel for an extended period of time. He is a source of all sorts of important information – how to navigate all manner of transportation, where to buy bread, groceries, the best gyms, etc. etc.

Salah is a Syrian businessman from Homs. He asked if he could join us for breakfast and of course we said yes. We asked him about the Syrian situation and he was pretty philosophical about it. He said, “Many countries have revolutions – France, America, Spain – 10 years and it will all be over”. He was in the fashion business but is now getting involved in exporting almonds.

Then three musicians from Spain joined us. One woman was a voice instructor and the other, younger one, was one of her students. The guy was a pianist and loved Niagara Falls. He also loves geography and knew about Winnipeg!

Food:

This has been an adventure.  Our breakfast buffet consists of fresh bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, a soft cheese similar to Feta, butter, jam,honey, mild salami, tea, hot chocolate and coffee.

On the street you can buy oysters – 2/1 TL. They are cooked, and then placed on a moulded piece of spiced rice in the shell. When you buy them, then vendor squeezes fresh lemon juice on each one before handing them to you individually. The process ends with him giving you a tiny paper napkin for your slightly oily fingers.

We’ve tried the lamb kabob wraps, Turkish coffee, Turkish delight and donor.

Grocery Shopping, etc.:

Thanks to Mark we have found a wonderful bakery that has brown bread and a small store where there is a limited supply of the basics.  I was able to get olive oil, dish soap, laundry soap, dolmatas, koftis, etc. At the produce vendor across the street we buy fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers.

We found a large, modern Mall (thanks to Mark) that has a very nice supermarket with wonderful fish and fresh meats and produce.  It is a little bit of a hike but we certainly found it useful.  There are some North American chains – Dockers, Beneton but most store are local. Prices vary. Berkenstocks are about half what they are in Canada and Lego is double.

Lovely Surprises:

Walking 2 blocks from our hotel to the Bosphorous and looking across to see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.

Being able to walk to the Opera House and buy tickets for a concert (unfortunately the opera and ballet we wanted were sold out)

Discovering a Rumanian Orthodox church amidst the most enchanting garden. The caretaker, a sweet lady, let us into the church which was breathtaking.  One icon was from the 14th century. Others had magnificent silver coverings of various quantities.

Things Diana has to Avoid:

Steps, ledges, uneven tiles, raised borders around trees, metal posts in the middle of streets, round cement balls in the middle of streets

Buses, taxis, streetcars, carts

Temptations:

Scarves

A yellow Yves St. Laurent clutch

A cute pair of Harem pants

So far all resisted!!!

Finally, Upcoming Adventures:

Lunch with Murray’s advisor, Bilal, at the University of Marmara and a Roman Catholic Bishop, Richard Price. He is an early church historian. We will have lunch, attend his lecture to Bilal’s students and then an open public lecture.

On Sunday we will meet Engin – the Turkish Anglican priest and go to his church.  Afterwards, some of his members are going to the Chora museum so we will go with them.

We love being in this neighbourhood.  It is clean, full of hustle and bustle, and in spite of being full of tiny little hotels crammed into narrow streets and buildings, feels real – not touristy.