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


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