Sunday, December 16, 2007

a year since the very blue gown

I have now been a university graduate for exactly one year. A year ago I was sitting in the dean dome in a very bright blue robe listening to a guy tell me about how hard the Beatles had to work for their success.

I suppose there are some things I miss about school. But I have to say that as I heard about people studying for exams, I was completely relieved not to be taking any. And it has only been recently that I have started reading anything that could be remotely considered serious. Perhaps I might want to go back to school in a few years, but I am very happy that I am on the teaching end of it now.

As a member of the working world now I have two observations about the differences between turkish workplaces and american ones. Unfortunately, the Turks took the American attitude toward work (or maybe the americans took the turkish attitude?) and not the European one. Turks only have two weeks of holiday a year, and often they work six days a week. Crazyness. Many work places in Istanbul offer a service to work. This means that a largish van comes to pick you up from somewhere near your house and takes you and other people to work. This has two advantages - traffic is horrible and commutes are long, so you can sleep or read on the way to and from work. In addition, it is more environmentally friendly and helps to reduce that horrible traffic.

Jobs in Turkey usually include lunch. I eat the lunch at school for free (and it is so so much better than school lunches in the US! They actually use real fruits and vegetables, as opposed to heating up things in industrial sized cans). My friend that works for a mobile phone company has a cafeteria in their building where everyone eats lunch. My roommate that works in a bookstore, too small to have its own kitchen, gives its employees cards with 200 lira a month that can be used at a large number of food places in Istanbul.

And of course all work places have tea, and copious glasses are drunk through the day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cheese!

Mondays are the one day a week that my roommate Orçun has off work. So I usually hang out with him in the afternoon. Often we end up paying bills and then going to this great cafe near to our flat. Today I was completely absorbed in my book (The Reader, I would highly recommend it) when he took these photos.





Cheese...Although I love Turkish food as everyone I have ever talked to about it knows, I have found myself in the last two weeks making two cross continent treks to find imported cheese. The first was when I went to the annual american women of Istanbul's christmas baazar. I actually went for the promise of ethnic food in general, but I had to teach so I got there three hours in. By then most of the food had gone. The food court upstairs was closing. The candy canes were gone. But I did find a half a kilo of cheddar cheese made in Sweden. The cheese along with bread from my slightly used toaster fed me for most of the week.

Last Friday, I went with Kathy (her son goes to my school and she found me my job), Leah (house sitter who let me sleep in the place she was house sitting), and two other older expat women to the Italian consulate to look for cheese and pork products. I ended up getting some Romano and some Asiago cheese, which are once again fantastic. The only thing I am missing now is the carolina moon cheese the chapel hill creamery makes, and cheese cheese. The tuesday market here is far far bigger than the carrboro farmers market could ever aspire to be, but for all that the carrboro farmers market has a wider variety of cheese.

That being said, I have now managed to find sage, rosemary, canned mexican beans. The people in the grocery stores near my house must think I'm pretty strange. And when I asked for the leaves and stalks of the celery but not the root (what they eat here) they must have thought I was even stranger. Not to mention a bit inept because I can never open the plastic bags they give me.

The time I failed with spices was for nutmeg. A while ago Ingo was making some califlower soup and wanted nutmeg and flour. The flour was easy. My dictionary told me that the word from nutmeg was kuçuk hindistancevizi, or little coconut, or little indian walnut. So at my local grocery store I was looking at the spices and asked for a kuçuk hindistancevizi, and he handed me a small packet of grated coconut. When I told him no, that wasn't what I wanted, he got offended and told me that was the smallest package of coconut they had.

My food discussion comes to an end. Almost. The one adorable second grade class held a bake sale today and the other will tomorrow. It reminded me of being in elementary school in north carolina again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

a room with a view

The wallpaper removal process - 3 days. Why people put up wallpaper, especially wallpaper that looks like this I shall never know. Thanks to collette for the help and the horrible carpenter for the one good thing he did - suggested I use soap as well as water.




My room now. 3 walls are one yellow and one wall another yellow, but they don't look as drastically different as in these photos. Definitely not as yellow as the first.






My ceiling! Yay ceiling art!


The view from my windows - Topkapi palace, Hayasofia and the Blue Mosque

Around sunset


In the morning

Our hall and dining room - not as yellow as it looks. The flowers are from teachers day :)


My kitchen - complete with original wood burning stove now covered by a gas burner and next to a modern washing machine.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

thanksgiving and bulgaristan

I had a turkeyless Thanksgiving in Turkey. After teaching my one morning class I went over to Collette and Hande's house to cook. We went to the grocery store in a car, the first time I can remember doing that since I left the US. My contributions were a pumpkin pie, stuffing, as well as chopping lots of califlower and potatoes. The pie was sort of a challenge. I did have the lovely measuring cups I got at IKEA, so the crust went okay. They have pumpkin here, and Collette had gotten one for thanksgiving, so they had a huge amount of cooked and frozen pumpkin in their freezer. The thing was I had no idea how much a can of pumkin would be of this frozen stuff, and I had no evaporated milk. So I substituted heavy cream stuff and just added things until it looked like the right consistancy. Collette's oven is just big enough to fit one pie. For the stuffing I used celery root, because they don't sell the stalks here, and used sage leaves intended for tea.

Thanksgiving dinner was great! We had zuccini al gratin, this vegetable loaf thing, tavuklu pilav, borek and poğaças made by Hande's aunt, mashed potatoes, steamed califlower, stuffing, bread and mini quiche things. For dessert we had pumpkin pie (which I think was the best I have ever had), cranberry cake, and vanilla ice cream (no fresh cream for whipping here). The attendees were Collette, Hande, Chad, me, Amy, and Amy's collegue. After eating too much food and watching the football game we sat around singing random song's from Chad's computer. Yay thanksgiving!!

Atatürk designated November 24 as öğretmenler günü, or teachers day. Because the 24th is a Saturday this year, my school celebrated on Friday. They told me I shoudl come for the ceremony in the morning, and then the feast at noon. I didn't have any classes, but convinced myself to get up early to go. The ceremony consisted of the 8th to 2nd graders saying sentences in English and Turkish about what teachers mean to them. The best was the 2nd graders - they were so so cute!

I had some idea that students gave presents to teachers, but had no idea that I would be getting anything. I ended up with two boquets and a rose from students and a set of Turkish coffee mugs that the founder gave to all the teachers. The day before one of my students gave me an amazing drawing with "I love you teacher Katty" at the bottom. I felt so loved. It was sort of an acceptance - you are a teacher and you belong here and we like you. The feast was great - lots and lots of food.

Friday afternoon, I was once again reminded how small the world is. It was beautiful and sunny, so I was going to to read by the sea. And as I was passing my neighborhood Akpinar, who should I see but Michal. She has been doing research in Italy, and Sami came to visit and so they decided to visit Istanbul. I had no idea that they would be here. And for them to be wandering a couple blocks from my house (completely outside the normal tourist zone) precisely as I was walking past was, well, I would say amazing, but I feel that's not enough.

So I showed them my house, walked with them along the pedestrian street, and then took them to the market. They loved the food market especially. We ate mandolinas, and then got very messy sharing a pomigranite. After the market I went with them over to sultanahmet to investigave this neighborhood they wanted to see. We ended up in a fish resturaunt/market area, and after being asked to eat at every resturant, and having a guy from georgia tell us the names of all the fish in his case in spanish, english, italian, japanese, and some other languages, we sat in the circle near all the resturants, drinking beer out of bottles. We had some guys come up and tell us we were going to get sick from sitting on cold stone. We found a lahmacun place that looked to be closing as we walked past, but they opened it up for us. They had no bathroom, and the mosque bathrooms were closed, so the woman from the resturant took us accross the street to a place where guys were making fake prada shoes so we could use their bathroom. Then Ibrahim from the workshop came over and talked to us as the baker made our lahmacun. It was interesting to talk to him and he invited us for tea after we ate. It's nice being with other people because when I am alone I am sort of wary of talking to guys because they sometimes get the wrong idea. After the excelent lahmacun we went back to their hotel and had rakı on the terrace.

And then it was time to visit Bulgaristan (Bulgaria). I woke up yesterday at 5:40 am, and left to take the 6:15 boat. Except I had read the weekday schedule, and on saturdays the first boat is at 6:30. I had to meet Kelsey and Mija to take the servis to the bus station at 7, and it wasn't going to wait. I took a taksi from Karakoy to Besiktas, and I have never gotten their so fast. When I told the driver I had to be there at 7, he ran some red lights for me. I just made the servis, which took us to the main metro office, and from there we took a very crowded van to the bus station. The bus ride was about 2 hours to Edirne. Turkish buses all have a sort of attendent in addition to the driver. First the attendent splashes lemon cologne (mostly alcohol, used for hand cleaning) on everyone's hands, and then he passes out cups, tea bags, or nescafe, hot water, and a little snack. It all seems very civilized. I slept most of the ride. In Edirne we had to take another servis into town, and then after lots of confusing directions, found a dolmuş (shared taxi) that would take us to the border.

And then we walked accross the boarder. We got a number of funny looks. Some people aren't allowed to walk accross and have to get into a car, but they let us walk. First customs, then being stamped out of Turkey, then getting sprayed accidentally with the stuff they use to clean the bottom of cars, then stamped into Bulgaria, and customs on that side. There isn't much on the Bulgarian side. I changed some money and we had some fantastic pizza and bulgarian beer. Then we hailed a bus, but when he told us how much it was to Sofia, and that he wasn't going through any other towns, I had him let us off by the closest village. The village was named Kaptain Andreevo, and there we met some teenage boys with great mullets on very old bicycles. The older one knew some English, and they accompanied us on our walk around the village. In the village there were some photos of people posted on walls, and when we asked, the boy told us they had died. We walked toward the church, and when we asked if we could photograph it, the boy thought we meant the photo of a dead person, and said if we took a picture of that we would also die. We crossed the highway and found a store owned by a guy from Edirne. There we tried this really weird Boza stuff, and had some more beer. There weren't really any busses to svalengrad, the nearest city, and so we walked back and went back into Turkey. We had one problem when they just stamped my and Kelsey's visas again because they had not yet expired. The whole goal of the expedition was to get new visas. We asked and were told where to buy them and then had to get them stamped again. I think the cars we cut in front of might have been a bit pissed.

The custom's officer told us there were dolmuşes back to Edirne, and so we were just going to take the bus that was going through inspection straight back to Istanbul, when he found a woman going to Edirne that would give us a ride. She told us there had been a flood and that the border had been closed for four days, explaining why the line of Trucks to get into bulgaria extended all the way back to Edirne, some 20 kilometers.

Back in Edirne, we realized there were few hotels, and it was going to be expensive to stay. So after trying two places, we found a ticket the third place, where a weird guy worked that spent a lot of time telling mija how she could improve her skin. We were all tired and cold and had some soup and tea for dinner. Then used the internet and took a city minibus to the bus station to get on the bus back to Istanbul. When we got to the big istanbul station there were a lot of people, and drums. Guys were being thrown up into the air and there were firecrackers. Mija explained that a group of guys were about to begin their military service (mandatory in Turkey) and that their friends and family were there to see them off. Took another servis to taksim (had to stop at one point so the driver could put more fluid of somekind into the van) and then I took a dolmuş home.

In total that makes three large buses, 7 small buses/vans, one boat, one taksi, and one experience hitchiking to get my new visa. All in all I would have to say the day was a success and bonding experience.

And now to get out and enjoy the sunshine before the clouds return!

football and other chaos

First, the details of the going out last week. Thursday night I met Collette, Johannes, his sister Lisa, some other Europeans and later Hande. We ended up going to three different pubs in Kadikoy, the last of which was called teachers pub. So much for me deciding never to go there. At the last pub Collette just kept handing me beers, resulting in me being the second most drunk I have ever been in my life. I recall Collette and Hande walking me home and the stairs being easier when drunk. I also showed Hande the former wallpaper in my room. I was switching back and forth between Turkish and English. But I'm a bit hazy on what I said. They tell me I said nothing stupid.

The next morning before 8, Tom and Andy arrived to get their stuff. It was a bit too early. They moved all their stuff out on the landing and repacked it. Then Tom went off to Western Union, Andy started putting on his new wheels, and I went in search of kaşarli toast. I helped Andy dismantle his broken wheel and will attempt to sell the non-broken one on Ebay for them.

By that time it was noon, and so Tom made some very delicious lunch - potatoes, onions and pepper left over from the dinner monday put into pide bread with cheese - mmm. After lunch, Andy and Tom were hanging out on the landing, so I went to visit. And then, the door shut with my keys inside. This was half an hour before I needed to leave to go teach and I was still in my slippers. First Tom tried to break into the front door with no luck. Then, we went through my neighbor's flat to her balcony and he climbed onto my balcony from hers. I video taped the entire thing. He arrived safely, only to discover that the door wouldn't open from the outside. It was then I realized that Amy might be home and I could just get her keys. So I walked to her house in my slippers, and thankfully she was home.

When I left to go teach, my landing was completely full of gear, and when I got back two hours later it was gone. My room and balcony were empty, and it felt very strange. Then, I went out in the pouring rain to meet a couch surfer named Lisa and had dinner with her. We went to a pub, met more couch surfers and Kelsey, then Lisa went home and we moved pubs and met Collette. I drank a huge amount of apple juice, and Kelsey and I were unsucessful in getting french fries.

The next day I slept late, and then went to Boğazici to get the best kaşarli simit and finished Jane Austin's pursuasion, an extremely good book. Between Mom, William, Tom and Andy I now have a huge stack of books to read. Yay! That night I met some couchsurfers again and Kelsey and we went to a bar and then went out dancing. Good times. I have to say though, going out three nights in a row is a crazy thing.

Monday all was normal at school until a school inspector showed up. And so I had to leave. Monday is Orçun's day off work, and so for the first time in forever, Ingo, Orçun and I all had dinner together. Later that night Amy, Dilek, Dilek's sister and their friend showed up for Ingo's slightly delayed birthday cake. mmm cake

Wednesday saw me at my first football (soccer) match of my life. Turkey was playing Bosnia, and they had to win in order to qualify for the European Champeonship tournament in 2008. I went with Collette, four german guys and two Turkish guys. It's the first event I can remember being at where the women's bathroom was completely empty when I went in. For most of the match, the only other woman we could see was wearing a Turkish flag shirt and had her head covered.

Apparently the match was pretty boring, and by the last 15 minutes the announcer had started to come on and beg the crowd to cheer. When this didn't work he asked them to wistle, started to cheer himself, and then asked them to cheer for the soldiers. Turkey won 1-0, but there were some close calls at the end. After the game there were fireworks above the stadium. Then we left in chaos, took the metro to Taksim, a dolmuş to Kadıköy, and then visited a sports bar before I walked home.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Visitors!

Crazy that half a month has passed since my last entry. The time has flown by, mostly with rainy and cold weather. It's a bit like England or Oregon in the winter here it seems. Thursday I'm going to be celebrating thanksgiving with some other Americans. I'm going to attempt to make a pumpkin pie. They have enormous pumpkins here, but I have yet to see a pie pan.

On the whole things are going well. Mom and William came to visit about a week and a half ago. They arrived by train early Thursday morning. The same day I started hosting a couple of really cool British guys, Tom and Andrew, who are cycling around the world. My room was suddenly full of gear and the balcony full of bicycle. And they had to carry it all up my stairs. It was fantastic to see mom and William!! The first thing we did was go to the baazar so they could visit Hasan and Murat. I guess first there was lunch. That afternoon I took them to the book exchange and then we had dinner in a place we would never have found had we not been told about it. Completely unsignposted from the outside, like so many of the best places in Istanbul. I got back home to find Tom and Andrew reading in my room. That night I attempted to give Tom a turkish lesson, although I lied a lot and kept having to backtrack. I think he learned a few things though.

Friday I had to teach the english teachers of the future class, because it had been rudely cancelled due to a philosophy exam earlier in the week. After the class I met mom and William on the other side at Efdal's school. After waiting a long time for them and having my name written in fancy caligraphy, they arrived and mom discussed her study abroad program with the boss. Afterward, we got on the boat, and then I had my first ride on the nostalgic tram. I don't usually think of Mom and William as old, so it was kind of strange to see that other people do. I think it's because in turkey, many people, especially women, dye their hair. So mom is one of the few grey haired women, and the only one with long curly grey hair. Anyways, they didn't have to give up their seats on the tram.

Back at my flat I got to see some of Tom and Andrew's photos, and then a bunch of mom and william's photos. They liked my flat and neighborhood a lot. I was glad, because for many it might be too funky. We then went to my favorite resturant for dinner. There is a theme to their visit - food! That night Andrew, Tom, Ingo and I visited some bars on bar street - awesome old wooden houses that are now multilevel, very smoky bars. I have to say that hanging out with these british guys (and maybe the wet weather as well) is making my feet itch again.

Saturday saw me at another fantastic resturaunt for dinner. Before dinner I met mom on Istiklal Cadesi to look for shoes for her. Instead it poured and we ended up spending all the time on the terrace of a cafe that had been covered up. The floor was wet and everyone inside was wet. We got this really weird and very green pistacio and cocolate cake thing. The best part was the chocolate covered pistacios, and so I ended up in a seven year old moment, dismantling the cake in search of them. Yay playing with food. Later in the evening there was more playing with food - playing poker for tiny raisins. It was decided that it was a reqiurement to eat everything that was won.

Saturday morning was Ataturk's death day. There was a ceremony at school that morning, and because I was curious I got up really early and went. It was really well put together and I was really impressed with all the work my students had done. The only thing wrong was that while they were showing photos of Ataturk's mosoleum, they played 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' in the background. All in all a very interesting, memorable, and informative experience.

William got his NFL fix on Sunday. We went to my friend Collette's house, for the NFL party with the best turkish food ever. Or the only NFL party I've been to with Turkish food. That day I also visited Akmerkez, and sort of helped mom in her boot buying quest. Shoes, and more generally, buying clothing in Turkey is horribly expensive.

Monday, saint William made dinner at my house for my roommates, and the brits. We were lacking in plates, napkins, silverware, and chairs, but it was still a fantastically yummy basque dinner. At school that day I was asked to prepare a speach on the ceremony I went to Saturday. Three cheers for the cook!! That night my roof leaked, and there was much general wetness on many levels.

Tuesday was a teaching day. I have to say that before now, I have never really appreciated a shower where water does not go all over the bathroom, and you don't have to always hold the shower head thing in your hand. I got to take a shower at mom and william's hotel - and a more fantastic shower was never had. Perhaps that was more information than you wanted.

Wednesday mom and william left. It was very sad. But before that they bought half a kilo of the most amazing cookies in Istanbul and then we went to the fish resturant in the fish market. We discovered that the awesome goose that wanders around the market belongs to them - their boss. The fish was fantastic - not since the fish market in Casablanca have I had fish that amazing. I told you that the theme was going to be food. That morning I delivered a little speech I had been asked to write by the principle and my department head to the entire school. Apparently it may be published on the school website.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday involved far too much going out, and that story will have to be told at some time when my hands are warmer than they are now.

If you were at all curious when I mentioned that these two guys are bicyling around the world - check out their website at http://www.ride-earth.org.uk/

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

My house, Moda, Kadıköy, Istanbul, Turkey

Dedicated to Dillon - the cat who loved halloween

It seems very strange to be in Turkey where no one is celebrating halloween. Halloween and thanksgiving are my favorite holidays. I suppose I'll have to plan something for thanksgiving. I've been horribly lax in posting, sorry for that.

I've now been here two months. It seems like I just got here and yet that I've been here so long. I've been teaching at the school I found at the end of my last post for 6 weeks now. It's definetly been a learning experience. I have kindergardeners, second through seventh grade classes, high school english prep, and english teachers of the future. I see each class once a week for 40 minutes (known as an hour) (shorter with the kindergarden), making a total of about 12 hours a week plus planning time. A few of the classes are really challenging because they are too crowded and the kids don't listen, but for the most part they want to learn English. The other teachers have been really great about giving me ideas for lessons and generally helping me out when I have no idea what I'm doing. The turkish education is a bit different than the US system - more authority and less creative thinking.

I also have one private class. I'm teaching a businessman in his early 30s named Bora. He lived in San Diego for a year and his English is really good. Basically he's paying me a lot of money to talk with him for an hour and a half a week and assign homework. He just wants to make sure that he doesn't forget his english. He races sailboats, rides a motorcycle, and is looking for a house because he is about to get married, which means he gets to move out of his parents' house.

Just today I found another job teaching a conversation class 3 hours every sunday to recent university graduates. I have my first class sunday. Hopefully it will go well.

After being in Istanbul a month, and trying all the turkish websites, english websites, and builiten boards that I could find, I found a place to stay. Thanks so much to all the people who let me sleep on their couches (some of them fold out) while I was looking for a place to stay - Aylin, Kubi and Ali Kaan, Leah and the two dogs, Erol and his family, and Ali. I found a place by looking at the buliten board in the german bookstore at my friend Ferah's suggestion. I called and Amy answered.

The place I'm living is likely about 100 years old. I'm on the 5th floor, meaning I have a view and lots of stairs to climb. Out my window I can see hayasofia, the blue mosque, and topkapi palace. The floors are wood and the ceilings have been painted. On the down side the plumbing is a little bit sketcy and we haven't yet gotten a referigerator. But we do have hot showers, a stove, and a washing machine. Next month we plan to paint the kitchen and buy the refrigerator.

I have two and a half roommates. One is a Turkish guy named Orçun, a photographer by training who works in a book store on the european side. He only speaks Turkish. The other is a German guy named Ingo who is a photographer and that's what he gets paid for. He's only here til april. He speaks german and english. The half roommate is named Amy. She lives down the street and has a business that buys translation rights to books. She also does translation, and is using the last room as an office to do translation a few times a week. She is american and is fluent in Turkish. So when she's not around I find myself translating between Ingo and Orçun. Fortunatly Orçun is very patient and a good teacher. So I'm getting lots of Turkish practice.

When I moved in my room had this horrible wallpaper that was badly done. In my inocence, I thought it would be easy to take off. Three days later, and with some help from my friend Collette, it was finally off. Then I spent a day cleaning and sanding and two nights painting. After a week I could finally move my cusions into my room to sleep.

The bed was another story. When we moved in we found a carpenter to build a door to Amy's room. He was telling her how in the past he had made these seat bed things. I thought that sounded cool, and he told me he could make me one for 100 lira. That was thursday I think. He was supposed to bring it Tuesday. Tuesday and Wednesday nights I sat at home waiting. Thursday he brought a bed that looked like a set piece for a play. Except that had I built it, I could have done it better. Unfortunatly I paid him.

Next came seker bayram and my first ever trip to IKEA with Ali and his family. What an insane place. The stores were closed for the weekend, but on Monday, Orçun's day off from work, we got a washing machine and I got a mattress and a sort of closet made of cloth.

After a second trip to IKEA this past monday (republic day) and many trips to the ucuzlik pazari (store of cheap things) I feel settled in my house. I really really like it actually. My house is about a 15 minute walk to the ferry boat dock and the shared taxis that I take to work. I'm 5 minutes from two grocery stores and there's a corner store on my corner. A note about IKEA - the second time I went by bus and it was an adventure. It's designed for cars.

Today I got my first pay check (well, except that I'm not on the books so it was cash not a check). And then I went and opened a bank account. A few days ago I had gone to the tax office to get a tax number which is necessary for having a bank account. They are supposed to be sending me an ATM card in the mail.

That's about it for now. I'm gradually trying the resturants and cafes in my neighborhood. The guy who runs the bakery near my school knows me know because I go in there many mornings to get some breakfast on the way to school. Oddly I've been drinking more coffee here (turkey is primarily a tea drinking country) than I have in the rest of my life. I have brunch with roommates on the weekends and have already had two guests try out my floor. I've gotten into the networks of the professional american women in istanbul and the young female english teachers of istanbul. All the people in both networks are amazing. Life is good.

Friday, September 14, 2007

the job hunt saga

Istanbul, Turkey

A summery of progress so far. On Saturday I arrived. Sunday I went to a wedding. And Monday I started looking for work. I had made some conections at the lunch after the wedding. So I started calling and sending emails. I also went to Kadikoy and visited 5 languages schools there to ask about teaching English. At the end of the day I had filled out one application and sent in 2 cvs.

Tuesday I turned in my application to English Time. On my way to the boat to go visit Sam, I stopped at the Brittish English booth to see if they needed teachers. An american girl was sitting there and translated what I said to the turkish guys. I feel like asking for english teaching, I should ask in english, for some reason. The guys were helping her fix her shoe, which had broken. Turns out that she went to chapel hill high, graduated in 96, took time off, and then just graduated from UNC and spent a year at bogazici university. It's a very small world. So I took her with me to meet Sam. We had lunch at sultanahmet koftesi, and then wandered around the taksim area. Then we went to the internet cafe. I feel like I spend far too muchtime on the internet these days with job searching and all. I had an email from a friend of a friend. She had two job suggestions for me. I emailed my CV to one, and then called the other, Small Hands preschool. The guy there said that that the woman in charge would call me soon. Indeed, later that day she called me, asked me to send her my cv, and asked if I could meet her at the school in Etiler wednesday morning at 8:30. Thanks to russ my CV got emailed.

Wednesday I woke up at 6, and had to take a bus and then a boat to the other side. By the time I got there I had to take a taksi, because I didn't have enough time to take the other bus. I got to the school, to find it was the first day of school. Chaos. I met with the woman in charge, Leman. She's horribly busy because she's trying to run 4 schools. Turns out one of the two teachers of the yellow group 2 year old class hadn't shown up. So they asked me to work right away to try it out. And then kids started showing up. I tried. I used turkish I didn't even know I remembered. I played with kids, talked to their parents, helped feed them lunch. 2 year olds are super cute, but you can't reason with them. Leman asked me to come back the next two days and said we woudl talk on Friday

Thursday was more chaos in the preschool and getting up early. Wednesday night I had gotten a call from someone my mom knows and I had met once. So after the school day was over for me, I called her. She wanted me to come to Topkapi palace and send her a text message at 4:30. She must not have gotten my text message. When I texted her again at 5 she said I had just missed the performance she wanted me to see. I got all excited, maybe I could get a part time job doing theater stuff. I waited more while she did some errands. Turns out, she wanted me to work 2 days a week giving out flyers and convincing people to come to her show. I'm sure it's a fantastic show, but I hate trying to sell things. I emailed later to say no.

Friday, more preschool chaos. After I was done I waited around a long time, and was told Leman was busy, she would call me later. So I left. Then I get a phone call from my fellow teacher, Leman will call me Saturday.

Saturday I get sick with a cold. I go to some events with Aylin and Kubi. One of them is a ceremony for kids that are about to start primary school. Leman doesn't call.

Sunday I feel horrible and don't do anything. I call Jay, the mentor at the school. He tells me I can talk to Leman tomorrow morning.

Monday I wake up, drag myself out of bed and go to the preschool. Leman calls me into her office. She tells me she wants to speak to me personally and professionaly. She tells me I am a great person and work with the kids very well one on one, but I'm not that good with a group. If I want I can try out another of her schools on the asian side, but they only need a teacher in the afternoon. So if they can find me an assistantship in the morning, and if I work better with the kids over there, I can try it out for a week, and then maybe they can hire me. I said no. Maybe because I had started three days ago, didn't know turkish (I was supposed to speak enlish not turkish), the parents were still there, everyone was settling in, and I had no experience. Oh well. But I worked the rest of the day, and managed not to start crying. I did blow my nose every five minutes. They did pay me for the four days I worked.

Tuesday I call a woman at a private school who needs an english teacher. I heard about the job last week, but didn't call because I thought I had the job at the preschool. She said, can you come meet with me. Having thoughts of oh no, not again, another super busy woman, I went to her school. The school is nice, and she took time to sit down and talk with me. They want a native enlish speaker to go into each class's english class once a week and do conversation things. I would be working with kindergarden to 10th grade. But the english teachers woudl stay in the room with me. They paid well, and everyone seemed nice, so I said yes. She made me promise I wouldn't leave them.

Since then I've sent out numerous emails looking for another part time job in policy or geography, visited the american research institute in Turkey, visited the baazar again, and tried to get better.

Ramazan started yesterday here. It's weird to see all the food stalls open, but no one buying food. I think being in Turkey for Ramazan will be a very interesting experience. This morning I was woken up by drumming at 3:30am. Apparently guys play drums through the neighborhoods to wake people up so they can eat before the sun comes up and the first prayer. I reminded me of being woken up by the call to prayer the first night I was in Istanbul (that I remember).

Anyways, that's the saga of the job hunt so far. Sorry if it was a bit boring. I start teaching not this coming Monday, but the next Monday, the second week of school. And by that time I hope to have a room in a flat and another part time job.

Happy ramazan and jewish new year

in which i enter the former ottoman empire

Istanbul, Turkey

I arrived in Turkey. It was a rather long trip from Prague. First I took the 6:30 bus from Prague to Budapest. If you're in the czech republic I would highly recomend student agency as a bus company. First they give student discounts. Second, they give you free hot beverages from a machine that makes very sweet slightly lemony tea, just the thing if you had to wake up far to early. And third, they show really random czech movies, including one about a guy who pretended to be a waiter during socialism, and everyone was so tired of waiting to pay they gave him their money. Called run waiter run or something like that. Another was called mountains of carpathia. On the bus I met a very nice woman who had been doing a medical rotation in the czech republic. She offered to show me around budaest, but feeling like I really needed to get to Istanbul I had to decline her offer.

After navigating the budapest metro I arrived at the train station. I really think the man behind the ticket counter had never written a ticket to istanbul before, because he had to consult all sorts of booklets and it took a very long time. But I had my ticket. I was too tired to do anything besides go to the grocery store. The 36 hour train ride I was about to take would have no dining car.

The istanbul bound car was half first class and half second class. I don't think I've ever seen a car split in half like that. Most of the rest of the train was going to greece, and other cars were bound for romania and bulgaria. A guy not wearing a uniform helped me onto the train, put me in a first class compartment and took my ticket. I was a bit concerned, until he took the tickets of other people coming onto the train. It turned out that there was one older turkish guy, two austrailian girls, one brittish girl named sam, me, and the conductor on the train. So we each got a compartment to ourselves. I ate some food and then folded down my seat into a bed and passed out. I was woken up at about 11 when we crossed into Romania. There was a passport check and 30 minute stop on each side of the border. Romania didn't take any time changing their passport stamp to the EU format. Places like the czech republic still have their own stamps.

Around 11 the next day we stoped in some little town in Romania. We were there for about 3 hours, so Sam and I got off and wandered around. Our car was the only thing on the tracks, sitting all by itself. It was pretty funny. There wasn't much in the town except for some big power plant. We had some too expensive coffee and then walked around. Later we found the austrailian girls and all had beer. By this point we had gotten better at negotiating with our euros. Fortunatly this time I didn't need any money in Romania, since I still wouldn't have been able to get any.

We left, and I spent the rest of the day sleeping and looking out the window. That afternoon we crossed into Bulgaria, and the scenery immediatly got more beautiful. To cross into bulgaria we went over the longest steel railroad bridge in theworld, or something like that. At 2 in the morning we left bulgaria and entered Turkey. On the turkish side, everyone had to leave the train. Then we bought our visas in one line, stood in another line to have our passports stamped and then I got back on the train and went to sleep, only to be woken up by an official checking passports to make sure that everyone on the train had a stamped visa.

We arrived in Istanbul at about 8:30 in the morning. Not having a hostel, I followed Sam to hers. They told us that check in wasn't until 12, but the guy let us take showers, and then leave our luggage. We went to the place that Efdal teaches, and had menemen for breakfast. Not much had changed. It's nice to be back.

Sam was visiting Istanbul on her way to a wedding in Bodrum, so I kind of showed her around that first day. We visited the baazar, and Hasan and Murat. She found some shoes there. Then we walked down the hill to eminonu to get some balik ekmek. Returning back up the hill we stopped at a cafe, and then she went out to meet some friends of a friend. I called Aylin. She said, why aren't you staying with us? and, Nazende is getting married tomorrow morning.

So after that first night in the hostel, I got up early in the morning, and took my stuff on the tram, boat, and bus to get to Aylin's house. That was the last time I am taking all of it on public transportation! Never again will I travel with so much stuff! Although my arms are stronger now. It was great to see Aylin, Kubi and Ali Kaan again. He's four and a half now! I had missed the religious wedding, so was only going to the civil part of it. It was in a building sort of like a town hall. Nazende's dress was beautiful. Cemalnur had designed it. Aylin hadn't told anyone that I was back, so they were all very supprised when I showed up. After the wedding was a lunch, that in usual turkish fasion was a bit chaotic from trying to include everyone. Then later that night was a zikir, a sufi ritual. While I had been to many sermons (sohbets) I had never been to a zikir. I think I was a bit too tired to properly appreciate it though.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Prague, Czech Republic

I ended up spending a week total in Loket. It was just really hard to leave. The hostel was great, and the people running it, Doug and Bianca were awesome. Bianca found train and bus times for every day trip I did, and then gave me advice about what to do when I got there. After Karlovy Vary, the next day I went to Cheb. Cheb, very close to the German border, used to be full of Germans until they were all expelled after World War II. The old center of town is nice, and the walled monistary garden is really beautiful. My last day trip was to Marianske Lazne, another one of the big spa towns. There were fewer water drinkers, and more people enjoying the beautiful central park and gardens. I could only actually find three of the fountains, the others seemed to be in locked buildings or mislabeled on the map. On the way back I took the train to Karlovy Vary, which was beautiful, although I had a hard time staying awake for the first half of the trip. The czech's really love their gardens.

My last adventure in Loket was going to see a play in the castle courtyard. Normally, theater is pretty easy to go to, but there were only eight of us watching and it turned out to be audience participation. It was a sort of modern version of Don Quijote de la Mancha. I understood the bit that was in spanish, but nothing beyond that. They still had me participating though, and they didn't really seem to get that I had no idea what was going on because I didn't speak czech. At the end we were all standing on stage with our shoes off as don quijote was dying and then we did a collective curtain call and got participation prizes. I guess the play was really funny because everyone else laughed almost the entire time.

After Loket I went to the university town of Olomouc in Moravia. The hostel there was also fantastic. In both hostels when you arrive they show you a map and point out lots of places of interest. I managed to get there in time for the last concert of the street theater festival, but was a bit bummed that I missed the rest of it. There are just too many festivals. While in Olomouc I visited the modern art museum (good photography) and the archdiocese museum (lots of jeweled gold cups and old czech people scolding and telling me things I didn't understand). I had chocolate pie, climbed the tallest tower in town that has a double helix staircase (and then a scary metal staircase) and kept walking through the town square. The town reminded me of prague, but smaller and with almost no tourists. In other words, more like a real place.

Tomorrow I take a bus to budapest at 6:30 in the morning :( and then will take a 36 hour train to Istanbul.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the kindness of strangers

Loket, Czech Republic

Left Ceske Krumlov hoping to get from there to this tiny town of Loket, in the west of czech republic in one day. Took the train back to Prague, changing once, and then headed off in the direction I thought the bus station was. And, because I'm me, I got lost. Started following random people with suitcases, which didn't work at all. Finally I asked a woman on the street, and she walked me to the local bus stop, told me which bus to get on, to go one stop, and then gave me a ticket. At the stop though, I still couldn't find the station, so I wandered around a lot and asked other people. When I made it there, the guy at the desk told me to take a bus to Sokolov and then change and go to Loket. So I got on the bus, and with the help of the woman sitting next to me got off at Sokolov. When I got there it was 9:30 and very dark and I couldn't figure it out. So I asked another woman for help. Then her friend came out of the pub (conveniently located at the bus station) and they found the platform for me. There was one bus at 10:30, so they invited me into the pub. There, I met Misha, Anetko, her two year old daughter, Peter, Anetko's father, some random guys, and found out the woman I had asked for help was named Simona.

They bought me a beer, and then Misha, who spoke fluent english, and was in a wheel chair or on crutches from a major car accident that had her spend two months in the hospital, and had done a lot of traveling when she was younger, decided that I should come spend the night at her appartment since Simona was already spending the night, and we could drink wine and hang out. And because she seemed nice and it was late I said yes. A bit later we left, Peter pushing Misha's wheelchair, Simona pushing Anetko's stroller, and me carrying the crutch. When we got to their appartment, Peter put Anetko to bed, and then opened the wine. They gave me some yogurt (dinner) and then we sat around talking. Simona wanted to show us her my space page that she had put a lot of time into creating, and then wanted me to edit it for her since she had written it in english. She was visiting Misha so that they could take pictures of her and Anetko so that she can show people her taking care of a child when she applies to be an opear in England. Got to bed really late and ended up sleeping on the floor. Then Anetko woke up at 6:00. Managed to sleep untl about 7:30, and then it was up and out. Misha's dad drove her, me, Simona and Anetko to Loket.

Loket's midevil festival was going on, so they wanted to stay there for the day and hang out at the festival. It was a bit difficult though, because the castle where the festival was occuring was built on a hill in the 12th century and not designed for wheel chairs, so Misha had to spend the entire day on her crutches. It took a couple hours of being in town and multiple rings of the door bell and then a phone call before I could get into the hostel. They had all been out at a concert the night before and were completely out of it. After dropping off my stuff I rejoined Misha, Simona and Anetko at the festival.

The festival was great! There was food (very good, since I had eaten almost nothing for 24 hours), music, people in costumes, stuff to buy, a castle to visit (complete with dungeon and torture chamber). I think one of my favorite things was the festival food. Over the two days I had this pizza like thing - fried bread with ketchup and cheese, a sausage rolled in a tortilla like thing with garlic, a potato pancake with ham and raw onions, a potato pancake topped with sourkraut, a bread bracelet thing with almonds, vanilla and cinamon, and a ginger bread cookie. Grease filled and fantastic. Also saw sword fighting, traditional dancing, the firing of an old musket, and a music group with very quiet bagpipes. There was also a parade, where everyone that was dressed up went through town.

Loket is a very small place. The river curves so much that it's almost on an island, but not quite. Because of that it hasn't really been able to grow at all, and so the town is still the same as it was hundreds of years ago. It also isn't completely full of tourists. Once the festival was over, I was suprised at how quiet the town was.

Today I hiked (and got lost and once again had very nice people helping me) to Karlovy Vary, a spa town that was big a couple hundred years ago. There are about 15 different springs that produce waters of different temperatures. The water had been diverted to fountains around town, and people, often elderly walk around drinking the water out of special china cups that have a sort of straw like thing. The waters are supposed to be healing, and especially good for the digestive system. So I had some, although I was drinking it out of my water bottle. The town is strung out along the river, and the buildings are beautiful. It was built so people could go to spas, drink the water, look at beautiful buildings, breathe the fresh air, and get better. The water is free, but you have to pay for the toilets.

mmm beer

Ceske Krumlov, Czech Republic

I left prague on tuesday morning for the town of ceske krumlov in southern bohemia. I took the train to the town there the original budwiser is made, and then changed to a very small local train. We went through every little village, and I saw some amazing gardens, as well as some deer and a lot of chopped wood. It seems that people in rural czech republic heat with wood. Ceske Krumlov is a really cute town with an amazing castle and a tower that reminded me a bit of a pastel wedding cake. My first night there I ran into a woman who was born in Tashkent when it was part of the USSR, then moved to the US when jews were given refugee status, and is now working in paris. I had no idea that she spoke russian, and then all of a sudden she started speaking russian to a woman in a shop. The shopkeeper had picked up everything, left the ukraine and opened a shop in the czech republic. She recommended a restaurant to us and had some fish and then fried cheese on salad. Somehow, the lettuce and the fried cheese are supposed to cancel each other out I guess.

The next day I decided to do the hike I had heard some other people talking about, so I searched town for someone who could give me a hiking map, got some bagel sandwiches and headed off, It was a beautiful trip. I started by taking the train three stops, then got off and walked 6 kilometers to the highest hill in the area named klet mountain. It's only 1084 meters tall, so not really a mountain. But someone built a tower at the top and there is a fantastic view of the surrounding country side and lots of small towns. The way back down was about 8 kilometers, and there was some walking at the beginning of the hike, so all in all I think I hiked 14 kilometers. When I got back to the hostel I was going to take a shower and relax, and then discovered there was a keg of good local beer at the hostel and it was free. So I drank lots of beer and talked to a bunch of Australians and some french canadians. Had a veggi burrito for supper and it wasn't bad. I guess its been a comfort food day, bagel sandwiches and burrito.

The next day I went rafting down the vlatava river, the same river that flows through prague. It wasn't very serious rafting, more like floating down the river and occasionally tying up the boat and drinking beer. But it was a lot of fun and I bonded with the people in my raft. I also learned how to play euker (spelling), which is a bit like bridge, but using only half the deck. It seems to work better with four people than six though.

Monday, August 13, 2007

decorating with bones?

Prague, Czech Republic

Not much to write about really. Prague has been good. It's rained every day since I last wrote, I think. And it's been nice and cool. Some days I've been prepaired. Today I got really wet. The nice thing about the rain is that the streets, especially in the tourist areas become less crowded.

A couple days ago I went to visit the former silver mining town of Kutna Hora. In the 1300s or so, silver was discovered and the resulting city was larger than the london of the time. It was second in importance only to prague. Later, all the silver had been mined and the city shrunk. But not before the miners had paid for an amazing gothic cathedral. Not to be outdone by prague, St. Barabra's cathedral is the biggest or one of the biggest in central europe. I thought the coolest part was the mining guild symbols that were painted on the ceiling.

Kutna Hora is a very picturesque town built around a valley. They also have a nice plague column (giving thanks that the plague of the 1700s was over) and the italian court, a palace that was turned into the mint while Kutna Hora prospered. They day I was there they were having an outdoor concert in the valley, and the group I heard seemed to be an american bluegrass band. It felt out of place.

The main station to Kutna Hora is actually located in Sedlec, an industrial town. I chose to walk from the main station to the historic town. On the way I visited the ossuary in Sedlec. Back in the day dirt was brought back from the holy land and sprinkled there, and after that, all the rich and important people wanted to be burried there. I think they ran out of room, but anyways, they now have 40,000 sets of bones. I guess they were just mounded in the chapel, but in 1870 someone got creative and hired a designer to decorate the inside with bones. It's a very grusome place. One of the main decorations is a chandeler made out of all the bones in the human body. The rest of the bones are piled in six pyramids at the edges of the chapel.

I've also done a lot of walking around Prague. I revisited Charles Bridge, and have been in and out of the old town square more times than I can count. Today I visited a church dedicated to this doll of the baby jesus that's supposed to have amazing healing powers. I also walked along wenceslas square, really more of a very wide street than a square, and around one of the islands in the Vlata river that divides Prague in half. The main way I get around here is by tram. The trams seem to go everywhere. There's also buses, and three metro lines.

Last night I went with Jan's stepdad to the local resturant in their neighborhood. It used to be a place where people exercised and played futbool, built as an effort to increase national identity by sports played together. Now it's a nice outside pub. You can tell it's a local place because .5L of beer is only one dollar. And it's some of the best beer in the world. I had goulash in a bread bowl. Although goulash was originally a hungarian dish, the czechs have also adopted it as one of their national foods. Although it's pretty heavy stuff, I like most czech food that I've had. Especially the dumplings!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

the rain in spain falls mainly in...prague

Prague, Czech Republic

I did it. I am now in the north where the weather is in the low 30s C, and where the euro is not used. It was a crazy journey, involving one night in a bed and three on various forms of transportation. And now it's raining. I hadn't seen rain for 6 or 7 weeks until last night.

I took the night bus from Madrid to Barcelona, put my stuff in the left luggage at the bus/train station and went off to explore. I remember being in Barcelona in 2000, but not many details besides Gaudi buildings. This time I walked up and down the main pedestrian street many times. I also got lost in one neighborhood, looking for the center for contemporary culture of barcelona. They had this really amazing exhibit called borders or frontiers. It was about borders - the EU and non-EU, miami and havana, cashmere, USA and mexico, illegal immigration, refugees, former yugoslavia. There were descriptions, maps, photos, and videos in an attempt to explore borders.

That night, took the boat from Barcelona to Genoa. The trip was about 20 hours. On board I met a spanish guy named Ruben. He as wearing nike sort of shoes and had a bag with english on it, so I asked him if he was from the US. I guess my americandar has been kind of off lately. I slept on the floor that night, and the next morning saw a dolphin swim by the boat. I might have seen a sea turtle too, but it could have also been trash. The dolphin I'm sure about, because I watched it jump.

I spent the night in the only youth hostel in Genoa, after the boat arrived about 5 in the evening. Genoa is one of those very vertical cities. The hostel was basically straight up from the port, but had an amazing view. I was in Genoa with my family in 1998, and I remember it was hot, and we found nothing redeeming, so we drove up into the mountains. On a second visit, old town Genoa is a nice place. There are lots of windy streets, although everyone was on holiday, so the town was a bit dead. The gelato stand per capita also seemed a bit on the low side. Had some very excellent pasta with pesto for dinner, and sat with two austrailians and an italian.

The next morning I took a train to milan, and another to Venice. In Venice I had a couple of hours, so I got some tiramisu gelato (!!!!) and then wandered. I rediscovered that I really love venice, even though it's way more crowded in August than it had been in March. Also, the price of everything seems to double or triple in the summer. I ended up walking all the way to san marco, asked some french couple (I'm really bad at finding the english speakers) if I could look at their map, and realized I had walked all the way accross the city. Hurried back, and got on my last train, Venice to Prague.

I was sharing my sleeping cabin! with two canadians, Becky and Kim. They were both very nice. We ended up all sitting on the middle bunks, spanning the aisle. Next door was a cabin full of germans playing very loud music. I love sleeping cars on trains. They even gave us breakfast in the morning. I also love the youth discounts on transportation in europe. For the first time since I entered spain, I had to show my passport - to exit austria and enter the czech republic.

Wandered around Prague for a few hours before being met by a very bearded Jan, who took me to the car where Maria and Lenka were waiting. Somehow we fit me and my stuff into their already very crowded car, and went to Lenka's appartment. It's really exciting that I'm not going to be going anywhere for a few nights.

Since then I've been hanging out in Prague. Met some of Jan's friends, his step dad, got some dumplings, and found a great book store. Time to go walk in the rain.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Tinto de Verano

Madrid, Spain

I went to Granada. The days were amazing. The nights sucked. I spent two out of three nights trying to sleep on the floor because the bed was too hot. After a month in morocco, I woke up my last morning and decided I was done with the heat, and it was time to go north and east, away from the euro, and hopefully away from the heat. Tonight I take the night bus to Barcelona, and then I plan to camp on the ferry to Genoa, and then take a train to venice and another train to slovenia or the czech republic or somewhere.

Granada was amazing. Standing at the bus stop Gran Via 3 I met Liesje, from Brussels. She had also just arrived and neither of us had a hostel. We decided to join forces and went to visit the hostel I had heard about. They had no space and sent us to this place way up the hill near the enterance to the Alhambra. The redeeming aspect of the place was that it had a freezing cold swimming pool on the roof. That night we walked down the hill and I had my first tapas in spain, and also tinto de verano. For someone who likes cute food and to taste lots of things tapas are amazing. And in Granada, every time you order a drink, they bring you tapas. I hear they don't do that everywhere in spain. Tinto de verano is red wine mixed with fizzy lemonade. It sounds weird, I know, but it's really really good. Although we ordered food the first night, we realized that if we ordered enough drinks we could just have a meal with the tapas.

The next day we got a room in the hostel we tried the day before - Oasis. The hostel is in a building that is centered around a courtyard. It's a nice place, although not as fantastic as I had heard. We explored around the cathedral, and then in the afternoon walked up the hill that faces the alhambra. The neighborhood there is really nice, little windy streets and whitewashed buildings. They also have some really nice grafiti. There are lots of hidden squares with cafes and lots of churches, but in Granada all the churches always seem to be closed. We ended up at this viewpoint that had a fantastic view of the alhambra.

A girl at the hostel told us that everyone goes to the alhambra at 8 in the morning to try to get in, but it's much better to go in the afternoon because there's no line and we would almost certainly get in. She said that many people who go in the morning get turned away. This is after we had tried to find tickets at all the websites and banks suggested. What a mess. But when we got there at 3 we only had to wait 10 minutes. The ticket has three parts - the generalife gardens, the nasrid palaces, and the alcazabah (the kasbah). The gardens are amazing! There are lots of fountains, hedge walls with arched doorways, courtyards with pools of water, and roses. My favorite thing though was a staircase that had really cold water running down the hand rails. The drinking fountains in spain are nice, because unlike morocco, you can actually drink out of them.

The nasrid palaces are amazing, but I think they are more amazing for other people. It's the same style of decoration that is used all over moroco - the mosaic, carved plaster and wood ceilings. This was the most elaborate example I had seen, but it was also the most crowded, which took away from the beauty. On the ticket, they alot everyone a 30 minute time slot in which they have to enter the palaces, or they will loose their chance. They were also doing a lot of restoration work, making the most famous courtyard hard to see in its full glory.

The alcazabah is the fort part of the alhambra. It has the walls that are seen from the outside, and the towers. Inside the walls there are what look to be foundations of old buildings, but not much standing. They didn't give us a map, and we didn't have a guide book, so we may have missed some things. But overall, I think we got the idea. It's such a huge place that it's hard to take in everything in a day.

That night Liesje and I went out for tapas again. I think I could get used to the schedule in spain, and I'm trying to use my spanish. I can at least order food and get a bus ticket and ask for directions. The words are slowly coming back. But being in southern spain in August is crazy! So I'm skipping Sevilla, Cordoba and Porugal, all things I wanted to see, and hopefully someday in the future I will return in the spring or fall.

Friday, July 27, 2007

In which all plans are defenestrated

Madrid, Spain

It's been rather a long time since I last posted, and much has happened, so I'll stick to the highlights. Defenestrated, a word I love, means to throw out the window.

After Fes we went to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Our hotel was accross the street from this amazing french cafe named Green Cafe complete with amazing french pastries. So instead of eating breakfast at the hotel, we ate their. They seem to be the only place in morocco that actually puts chocolate in their chocolate croussants. We walked everywhere in Rabat I think, and my knock off converse allstars were dying, so now I have some snazzy new purple euroshoes. After trying many shoes stores and finding no arch support in shoes, I started looking at people's feet, and have concluded that morocco is full of flat footed people.

One of the more outrageous experiences was meeting up with the couchsurfers of Rabat and Sale. If you want to know about couch surfing their website is www.couchsurfing.com, but the idea is so people can travel and meet other people and stay on their couches. One guy named Nabil walked mom and I to the tomb of Muhammed V, the king who liberated morocco from the French. It's a very impressive mosoleum, built in the ruins of the mosque that was intended to have the highest minaret in the muslim world, but was never finished. Then, the rest of the couch surfers showed up. They gave everyone, including me, a diploma for having attended the first couch surfing meeting of Rabab-Sale (although I was now attending the second meeting) and then had us take a lot of photos together.

We had heard that boats crossed the river to Sale from Rabat - they don't. So we walked a lot, took petit taxis and then smushed into a grand taxi to get to sale. We ate lunch at this lunch counter sort of place, and had sardine ball sandwhiches. It was very good, but perhaps one of the stranger things that I ate in morocco. Miraculously, none of us got sick from the lunch. This further validates the theory mom and I have discovered of food in morocco - the smaller and cheaper the place, the better the food will be. This holds except for very very nice resturants, where the food is indeed worth the money.

In Sale we also visited the exotic gardens. There are sections of the gardens from peru, china, congo, japan, pacific islands, arid mexico, etc. It's an amazing place. The paths wind through it in such a way that it feels much larger than it is. There are bridges, stairs, stone archways, and a waterfall. And it was nice and cool. We got there an away using the bus, our first public intracity transport. It felt a bit like the bus was falling apart.

We took the train from Rabat to Casablanca, and there bought a new suitcase, so Ian could take lots of things home for all of us. The day was spent repacking for the most part. The next morning, we all took a taxi with him to the airport. He had to spend the night in JFK, but got home okay. The rest of that day and half of the next rather angst filled day was spent deciding what I was going to do after morocco. That afternoon I bought a bus ticket to Madrid. I've decided to throw any plans out the window (unless I get into JET). And I will find that english teaching job when I run out of Money.

The bus ride from Madrid to Casablanca was 24 hours, although not all of that was driving time. The woman behind me on the bus, named Fatih, decided to sort of adopt me, and made sure I got through the whole thing okay. She's from morocco, but has been living in spain for 6 or so years. She didn't speak any english, so I drug out my high school spanish, and we sort of managed to talk. Spanish does seem to be coming back to me, which is nice, although I sound like a three year old.

We drove to Tangiers, then had to take all our stuff off the bus, go through passport control (moroccans aren't too fond of orderly lines) and have our bags scanned. Then we walked to the dock where the boats was, hauled our stuff up the gangplank, and waited an hour and a half for the ferry to go. The ride accross to algecieras was two and half hours. For some reason I thought it was going to be about 30 minutes. Then we did the whole pasport control and customs again, and got back on the bus about 1:30 am. We arrived in Madrid at about 11.

Madrid is beautiful, and seems so calm after morocco. The cars stay in their lanes, there are cross walks and lights telling you when you can cross. The sidewalks are wide and in good repair, and the metro is great. It also seems less poluted on the whole. I've found a hostel and harry potter, and am taking a couple of days to just hang out and not do too much. I have no idea what I'm doing next. If anyone has any friends I could visit or suggestions of places to go, I'm all ears. And now, back to harry potter!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An aMAZEing city

Fes, Morocco

The guidebook says that Fes can be a sensory overload. I think I agree with them. The medina of Fes is the largest living midevil city in the world. It's a complete labyrinth, with some of the streets only about a person and a half wide. The only modes of transport are walking, and horses and donkeys act as tucks. We saw the coca cola delivery donkey go past one day. It seems about half of Fes lives in the Medina, which is divided into two parts - Fes al bali (where we are staying) and Fes al jadid (the "new" part). Then there's the ville nouvelle built by the french, and the modern city built after the french left. There's only one problem with Fes, and that's the amount of hustlers. Every one wants to be your tour guide, or to sell you something, or to take you to the tourist resturant so they can get a kick back, or something. This makes it very hard to get good directions anywhere, and because the Medina is such a maze, it makes it very hard to find certain sights.

But we did manage to see a lot of Fes al bali. Yesterday we visited the tanneries, the stinkiest place in the city. They still tan leather the old fassion way, which involves a lot of pigeon shit, lime, and dyes. All the different chemicals for all the steps are in different pits, and the leather moves from one to the other, often sitting in one pit for up to a month. The pits remind me of a honey comb. After accedentally walking into the middle of it all, we backtracked, went up into a shop and up on their roof to get a view from the terrace. They gave us mint sprigs to try to make the smell less. We could see the guys working. Some of them were standing knee deep in the pits of chemicals.

William's Arabic teacher, Muhammed, is in Fes for the summer with his family, and so yesterday morning we walked around the Medina with him, and then yesterday evening he and his wife brought us to his mothers house for coffee. I should have known it wouldn't be just coffee. They also had mint tea, cookies, croissants, a layered flat bread and non-sweet doughnuts, in other words, a feast. We got to meet their two adorable children, and his mother and sister. It was really nice to see how a real moroccan house and family, and to actually get to talk to a woman. Fatihah, Muhammed's wife is very nice. Most of the time on the streets we see men, in the hotels it's men except for the cleaning ladies, in the resturants it's men, etc. Although we see women, being a tourist, the only people we had talked to were men. After coffee, they took us in Muhammed's brother's car to the ville nouvelle, and we walked up and down the streets and stoped at a sort of traditional arts exhibition with music.

Today we hired a driver to go see some of the cities surrounding Fes. First was volubilis, a ruined roman city. Not much of it is left standing after it was sacked for its marble and then there was an earthquake. There were still some very impressive mosaics, such as the one that displays the twelve labors of hercules. They had reconstructed the triumphal arch, and some of the basilica. The city was on a hill, and had originally been surrounded by forest, but it was all cut down to grow wheat for the empire. And today the land is still used to grow wheat.

Next we went to Moulay Idris, where the first Moroccan king is burried. The entire town used to be closed to non muslims, but now it's been opened, although they still can't visit his tomb. In addition to being king, he was a grand son or great grand son of the prophet, and is considered a saint. Five pilgramages to his tomb can replace the required trip to Mecca. Deciding not to eat lunch here, we went to Meknes, the first imperial capital of Morocco. Our driver took us to two fancy tourist resturants before we could convince him that we really just wanted to eat sausage and bread on the square. And the sausage was great! We walked into the medina, then visited the old stables, where they quartered 12,000 horses back in the day. The place is cooled by water running underneath in pipes. At the time it was a major engineering accomplishment, and the place was indeed very cool. We drove past the king's palace, and then tried to go to the tomb of Moulay Ishmael, the one tomb we were supposed to be allowed to go into, and they wouldn't let us because it was supposed to be closed for the holiday.

Our last stop was one of the potteries of Fes. Fes is famous for its pottery and mosaic. They burn olive pits to get the kilns hot enough, ad there was a ton of black smoke pouring out. Although it was really interesting seeing all of the steps involved, the place made me feel ucky. Back in the car I realized that if I had to pick working in the taneries or the potteries, I would pick the tanery. The potteries really reminded me of a sweat shop, where guys were working in dark rooms doing the same thing over and over. In the tanneries, however, it had a more communal feel, even though guys were knee deep in chemicals.

Tomorrow I plan to really get lost in the Medina here, and then we head to Rabat, the capital, and the coast. Across the river from Rabat is Sale, a former pirate capital.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Moroccan food and the beach

Essaouira, Morocco


We're at the beach! Essaouria is a small town with a really nice walled old town that is right on the coast. Part of the coast here is rocky, but there's also a good beach that has been packed during the day. There are little kids in swim suits, covered women with their pants rolled up to their knees, wind surfers, and kite surfers. I think kite surfing looks like it would be awesome!

Some day I'm going to have to learn how. The city is very windy and cool, making a nice change after the desert. Most of the buildings in the city are white, and blue seems to be the color of choice for trim. It's really nice to be in a more laid back city, where I could go walking by myself, and where the shop keepers and touts aren't hasseling people all the time.



One of the biggest industries here is carving the local Thuya wood. Lonely planet indicated that the tree may be endangered, but Ian looked it up on the web, and could find nothing about the tree being endangered, or any groups set up to protect it. So we're going to assume that the guide book is lying. We've discovered on this trip that the guide book is not always correct. Yesterday, after reading about a "laundry mat" outside the walls in the ville nouvelle, mom and william walked half an hour there to discover that it was really just a woman's laundry business, and that she does have a washing machine, but it is not for everyone to use. So they left her our 94 pieces of laundry to do. When william and I came to pick it up they seemed amused at how many bags it was taking to carry it.


Me on a boat

Yesterday night, mom and William went out for their anniversary leaving Ian and me on our own for dinner. We went to a small pizza and pasta place. I got penne gratin, a version of macaroni and cheese. I was suprised when it came in the traditional tajine dish and was still bubbling. A tajine is made out of clay, and has a flat base and then a conical cover. They're used to convert a burner into a sort of oven. They come in multiple sizes, from an individual portion to a family sized one. Tajines usually have chicken, lamb or kofta, and then sauce and vegitables. They are brought to the table still bubbling. On the coast there are also shrimp (amazing!) and fish tajines. One of the most common types of tajine is chicken with olives and pickled lemon. I think it's on almost every menu that I've seen. And apparently they also make mac and cheese in a tajine.

Another common dish harira, a widly variable soup with a meat or tomato base, and vermicelli and chick peas in it. Here at the coast fish soup is popular. Couscous is another major moroccan dish. They serve it with cooked vegitables. They have lots of salads with tomato and onion, as well as the ocasional pizza and pasta. One good legacy of the french is great pastry and coffee. The national beverage is mint tea. It is served in a metal pot that is full of fresh mint leaves as well as some gunpowder green tea and lots of sugar. A pot usually contains enough tea for two or three cups. Breakfast is usually bread, butter, jam, orange juice, and coffee or tea. Sometimes they add pancake type things or hard boiled eggs to that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Photos from Marrakesh - Part II


The entrance to the Jardin Majorielle (paradise)


Plaster carver at work


In the courtyard of the Marrakesh museam


The only woman chief in the Jeema Fna food booths


Moroccan doughnuts

Goats in a Tree and other Tales

It seems forever ago that I wrote the last post. Since then we went to the Sahara, left the Sahara, changed a tire, saw the Atlantic, saw goats in a tree, got a speeding ticket, and returned the car.

Pre sahara we spend a night at toudru gourge, a very beautiful place. My favorite part of that day was the walk through the palmarie. It was amazing!! From the outside it just looks like many many palm trees.

But when you walk under them you see that there are many small fields that are growing alfalfa, tomatos, peppers, corn, cabbage, and more. There are also lots of other trees including pomagranite, fig, apricot and others which I have now forgotten. Because a river flows through the center of the valley, there are irrigation cannals with running water that wind their way through the fields. The fields have walls that are built up, and they are flood irrigated - water is let in from an irrigation cannal and then allowed to sink into the soil. I'm sure there's a lot of work going on in the area, to me it was a beautiful and magical place.

The sahara. After leaving toudru gorge we drove south to Zagora. As we were driving we passed a sign - welcome to the moroccan sahara. It began to get very hot and we drove through a lot of stony desert. Then, we started driving through yet another valley filled with palms - the Draa valley, home to the biggest river in Morocco. Our destination was Zagora, one of the last major towns before the serious desert. William had lived here for a month 12 years ago, so it was exciting to see what he had been talking about. We also went to the market - it was very hot and there was so much stuff. To attempt - spices, building materials, old tires made into baskets, cassettes, grains, produce of all kinds, especially watermelons, clothes, metal pieces, and jewlery.

That day at 6pm it was 102 in the shade. That afternoon we drove south, but decided not to go to the end of the road because william was worried about the tires. Very fortunatly the hotel had a pool, as well as excellent tomato, onion and pepper salad. And we learned that mom only sweats in the Sahara.



After two nights in Zagora, we drove out of the Sahara, and west. We drove along small roads, went through a couple of towns that were having markets, and then all of a sudden, the car started bumping and william pulled over. The result is that I know know what to do if I ever get a flat tire. And we were all very glad that it hadn't happened in the desert. Onward we went. We drove into Taroudant, a walled city thinking of staying there. The sign said it was 97 F, but to us it felt cool. It was market day there too and things weren't going right, so we drove all the way to Agadir, a big resort town on the Atlantic that also has a major port and fishery. It did not seem at all like the rest of Morocco, but it was nice and cool.

Yesterday we left Agadir, after trying to get to the beach and failing, and drove a two lane road with lots of very heavily loaded trucks. After a wile we passed a bunch of bottles on the side of the road. William told us it was Argan oil, made from the nut of the Argan tree. Traditionally, goats ate the nut and then their digestive system got rid of the hard outer coating. The nuts were recovered, the kernals pressed, and then you had this oil which is supposed to be very good for you, and is catching on in places like Paris and NYC. And to get the nuts, the goats have to climb the trees. Which is why I saw goats in a tree as we passed. The Argan tree can live in temperatures up to 50 C, which makes it an ideal plant to fight against desertificaiton. Back to the oil, now they have coopertives which are cutting out the role of the goat. Mom was joking and said there should be a campain for "full employment for goats"

After the goats in a tree we were driving along only to get pulled over for doing 82 in a 60km/h zone. The guy pulled out his book to show us the fine was 400dh. However, we didn't have that much money. He was kind of shocked, and we didn't understand him and he kept getting louder. He decided he couldn't take all the money of some stupid tourists, and let us go with only a 200dh fine and no written ticket.

We returned to Marrakesh, and then had to drive in the old city to get to the parking near where we were staying. William returned the car, and tomorrow we head out for Essouira, a small town walled town on the coast.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Photos from Marrakesh - Part I


Jardin Majorielle


Food stands in Jemma Fna at night


Orange juice stands in Jeema Fna at night

Friday, July 06, 2007

Drumming in Dades Gorge

Dades Gorge, Morocco

Yesterday morning, after spending the night in the hotel where David Lean stayed during the filming of Lawrence of Arabia, we crossed the dried up river bed into the old village - a UNESCO world heritage site.

A lot of the village had been rebuilt for the filming of the movie, but as we discovered walking around, what was rebuilt was what could be seen from afar. Everything else was still a little bit falling apart. All the buildings are made of rammed earth - similar to adobe, and when it rains the walls have an unfortunate tendency to melt. We got to see the inside of one of the towers of the kasbah (fort) and then walked all the way up to the top of the hill. From the top we could see the arena they had created for the filming of gladiator.

After recovering from our very hot walk, we drove east, into the valley of the roses, then the valley of the kasbahs, and finally into the dades gorge. The gorge is spectacular. The sides are made of red rock, which has been carved into strange brain like formations in some places. The floor of the valley is green - there are lots of fig and olive trees, as well as fields of potatos, wheat, mint, and other plants I couldn't indentify. The fields are small, but they make use of every inch of land, and it's all very intensivly cultivated.

After finding a place to stay, mom, Ian and I were walking along the road and we saw a threshing machine that was getting hooked up to a tractor. Since it was taking a while we walked on and then when we walked back by it they were feeding wheat into the machine.

As we stood there watching one of the women working motioned for us to help them carry the wheat to the machine. When we actually started to help, they looked very surprised and pleased. I guess it was a kind of dare or joke, they didn't think we could actually help. After a few trips to the machine the woman told mom to stop, I guess we were overloading the system.

At dinner that night (we were the only ones staying in the hotel) we asked the guy who broght us dinner, who is a trek leader most of the time about the thressing machine. He told us how easy it made the process. Now they could separate an entire family's grain from the wheat in two or three hours instead of the day or two it used to take them with a mule walking in circles over and over and then throwing the hay into the air.

At dinner William asked about drumming, because when he had stayed at the place 10 years ago, guys had been playing drums after supper. So the trek leader guy found a couple of guys working in the hotel to play the drums. Then they got mom and Ian, and later me to give it a try. The drums they gave me were heavy and kept slipping, but it was really fun. At one point the hotel manager came out and played for a while.

My camera and the computer are now over their argument and are talking again, so hopefully there will be some photos soon

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Old tiled buildings

The past two days have been days of old buildings. Yesterday we went to a palace that took 20 years to build by the Saadians, and then 12 years to strip by the next ruling group. Now the tops of the walls are filled with nesting storks. The word for stork in arabic (or at least moroccan arabic) is el clack (not spelled like that) because of the noise that they make. Their nests are huge. The palace is also home to a mimbar of the oldest most famous mosque in the city. The mimbar is made of wood with elaborate carving, and was done in the 1100s in andalusia, and then shipped in parts. It's been restored and was taken out of the mosque in the 1960s.

We also went to the jewish quarter, saw the old cemetary and a fake cynagogue and were scammed. It reminded me of my worst experiences in egypt. Yucky

Today we visited the Marrakesh museam, the Ben Youssef medresa, and this domed building that was an abolution fountan and was surrounded by an elaborite hydralic system, although since the description was in french, and kind of technical, mom wasn't quite sure how the system worked. The museam is in an old restored house of someone who must have been very wealthy. It's build around a spectacular tiled courtyard, which has been covered for preservation purposes. The museam does have exhibits, but what's most interesting is the building. I can't really describe it, you need photos.

A medresa is a theological school. Contrary to reports in the american news, when Barak Obama visited a medresa, he was visiting a school, not a terrorist place. This one also has an amazing tiled courtyard, topped by carved plaster and then carved wood. Around the courtyard are rooms for the students. All the rooms are off of mini, two story, court yards. They're about the size of a small dorm room. It was really neat to be able to walk into all the rooms, and get an idea of what the school could have been like.

On our way to the famous buildings we passed a guy who was doing the carving in plaster, He had a square of it, and he was chipping out the design with what looked like a screw driver. He said it took him 5 hours for a square that must have been 6 inches on a side. I can't even imagine how much work went into the tiled mosaics, and carved plaster and wood in these buildlings. And it's not just in the fancy buildings. Many doors we've past while exploring have also been carved.

Tomorrow we rent a car (hopefully with air conditioning) and head off east to the village where lawrence of arabia was filmed