istanbul part 2: buses, baristas, & babies

This may sound really obvious, but having gotten to know Izmir over a couple of weeks, the sheer size of Istanbul is striking.  I’ve come to expect trips around Izmir via public transportation taking between 30-60 minutes, but our frequent travels to the European side of Istanbul typically took about 60-90 minutes, and our trip back from Emirgan took about 2 hours.  So, I spend a lot of time on buses, ferries, taxis, and the dolmus (the erratically driving but frequently running minibus), which gave me some time to catch up on reading.   Of these various forms of transportation, I loved riding the ferry from Kadıköy on the Asian side to Beşiktaş, near the Golden Horn, which provided beautiful views of Istanbul’s most famous sights – the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, and Topkapi Palace.

Besides being much bigger than Izmir, there seem to be more English speakers in Istanbul, probably due to all the tourists as well as international citizens.  Despite being an obvious Turk, people would frequently speak to the BF in English, either due to my presence or his American accent while ordering Starbucks drinks (though the menu is the same as in the US, Turks pronounce some of the words differently, so if you’re an American reading the English menu items, the Turkish baristas aren’t likely to understand your order until you repeat yourself).  It was also pleasantly cool most of the time, in the 70’s during the day, and often quite chilly by the water or on the ferry.

Another neighborhood I loved was Bebek (which means baby), an upscale area right by the Bosphorus, where I enjoyed the views from what is probably the world’s best Starbucks location – right on the water.

This is likely my last post before I leave Turkey and head back to the US on Wednesday, since starting tomorrow (Monday) we’ll be staying at the BF’s sister’s summer house in Urla (outside of Izmir), and there’s no internet connection.  However, I still have some things about this trip that I want to post about, so I plan on publishing at least a couple of more posts after I return.  Also, I’ve hit my monthly upload limit on flickr, so I’ll post some more pictures from the trip in July.  To many of you reading – görüşürüz – see you!

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istanbul part 1: consulates, councils, candy, catching fish, & cafes

We arrived back in Izmir late last night, but I haven’t even posted anything about our week in Istanbul yet!  Our main reason for going to Istanbul was for the BF to go to the US consulate to get his visa renewed, which was successful.  We stay the rest of the week to wait for him to get his passport with the new visa back, and enjoyed our time exploring various neighborhoods in Istanbul.

We stayed in Bostancı with friends of the BF’s, a young American couple who the BF had started teaching Turkish to about two years ago before they moved to Istanbul.  They were great hosts, and I truly enjoyed our conversations with them about culture, theology, translation, etc that often went late into the evening.  Every day, we went to Kadıköy, either to catch the ferry to the European side, or just to enjoy the neighborhood itself.  Kadıköy was ancient Chalcedon, famous (to every Christian but me) as the site of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, or Council of Chalcedon, which resulted in the Chalcedonian Creed declaring that Christ was both fully divine and fully human.  Not much is left of the ancient city, but here were some blocks in a public square declaring the ancient name –

Our friends also took us to Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, a store in Kadıköy which claims to have invented Turkish Delight, which could mean that they were the first company to add corn syrup to the recipe.  Whatever the origins of the treat may be, it is the oldest company in Istanbul that still operates from its original store, and yes, the Turkish Delight from it is delicious.

Both of us having already visited Istanbul, we skipped over the main touristic sights and spent our time exploring different neighborhoods around Istanbul, and relaxing as much as possible.  One day, we went to the Galata Bridge in Eminönü, where we ate a delicious fish meal at one of the restaurants underneath the bridge and watching the amateur fishermen from above throwing down their lines and sometimes bringing up a catch.  I was proud of the BF for successfully haggling down the price of our dinner, and felt bad for all the tourists who were ripped off by paying full price.

After dinner, we made our way over to İstiklal Avenue via a charming antique underground train car, and walked down to Taksim Square.  According to Wikipedia, 3 million people a day during the weekend visit İstiklal Avenue, and I’m inclined to believe it because it was certainly crowded even on a Monday night.  The avenue is comprised of beautifully designed late Ottoman Era buildings, causing me to bemoan the burning of Smyrna because it’s really such a shame that Izmir doesn’t have any place like this. Churches and European consulates are interspersed between restaurants and stores.  We found a 7 story mall, where we enjoyed the views from the balcony of its cafe.

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catching waves or how I learned to stop worrying and love the beach

I’ve never been anything of a beach goer.  Before this trip, I could count on one hand the number of times that I’d swam in the ocean, and none of those experiences shed any understanding into why so many people love the beach.  I have many reasons for disliking the beach – my aversion to getting dirty in the sand, my fear of swimming amidst seaweed, fish, and other creepy crawly ocean things, my fair skin that burns even when I’m wearing sunscreen, and my limited swimming abilities.

However, I have several friends, including the BF, who think there’s nothing better than a day spent at the beach, alternating between swimming in the waves and relaxing on the sand by reading, napping, or enjoying a cold drink.  The pictures I’d seen of beautiful beaches in Turkey were tempting, so it seemed time to give this beach thing another shot.  Before we left for Dubai, we spent three days in Çeşme, a beautiful beach town near Izmir.  Our first day, we spent a few hours at Ilica, where I was pleasantly surprised at how clear, calm, and shallow the water was there.  There was small fish swimming around us which freaked me out a little bit at first, but they avoided touching me, so all was well.

We spent that evening in Çeşme by the bay at a nice hotel bar outside playing old standards, enjoying Efes and nargile.  Efes is the ubiquitous Turkish pilsner which I had avoided up until Çeşme because I’m a bit of a beer snob, but it was surprisingly refreshing while on the beach or by the bay.

The second day, we made our way to a private beach recently bought and turned into the “Fun Beach Club.”  As obnoxious as that name sounds, it was actually a really nice place, not crowded with other beachgoers or food vendors yelling at you to buy their corn.  Instead it featured an overpriced café with lush green grass and shaded tables and some of the best kofte we’d enjoyed yet.  I really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere to lay and read by the waters.

The water here had more waves and seaweed and wasn’t as shallow, but by the end of the day I had a lot of fun trying to catch the waves as they crashed toward the beach.

By this time, I had overcome my aversion to dirty sandy feet, since there’s really no way to stay clean at a beach but there were showers available for afterwards.  Even though I put on sunscreen twice, I still burned a little that day, forcing me to be more careful the following day.

On our third day, we took a boat trip around to some islands and lagoons.  We boarded the Poseidon (hrmm, maybe the Poseidon Adventure never aired in Turkey) and despite the annoying pop music played on board, we enjoyed drinking çay, laying on large pillows, and poking fun at our fellow passengers (such as the 60+ large woman in a pink bikini and tons of jewelry that we dubbed the “Mafia Mama”) as we traveled around.


This first lagoon we stopped at had deeper waters than I was used to, causing me to hesitate whether I would get in.  However, I’m a better swimmer than I realized and floating in the ocean is easier than floating in a pool, so I managed fine in these waters.  Even though it’s quite warm outside, the Aegean waters don’t get warm until July or August, and this day’s water was especially cold so we didn’t swim as much as we had the first two days.

As we headed back to shore, we were entertained by a belly-dancing drag queen – a sight I never expected to see in Turkey!

Despite being sick with undiagnosed bronchitis, we also had some water fun in Dubai, at the Atlantis Aquaventure water park.  Atlantis is the main resort at the Palm, the group of palm-shaped islands created in the Arabian sea.  Whereas the Aegean seas were a little chilly, the 110 degree heat in Dubai turned out to be great swimming temperature.  We had a lot of fun going through the slides, waves, and rapids at the Atlantis, but I honestly expected it to be bigger and have wilder rides.  Though the rides at Hurricane Harbor are wilder, I’d still pick the Atlantis for its resort atmosphere, lack of crowded lines for the rides, and superb locker room accommodations.

So there you have it, I’m now a beach goer.  At least when the water is clear, the beach is uncrowded, and there are comfortable chairs shaded by large umbrellas.

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the new city

What to say about Dubai?  You’ve probably already heard about and seen pictures of its opulence – the world’s tallest building –

So called “seven star” hotels –

And malls that seem more like theme parks, featuring indoor skiing, aquariums, water shows, and hundreds of stores each –


It’s Las Vegas, Miami, New York City, Disney World, and Houston all rolled together and built within a decade with oil money in the middle of the Arab desert.  Everything is new, flashy, and trying to be bigger and better than its Western neighbors, even when the global crisis hits and the rich from around the world who would buy homes and vacation and start business here aren’t quite so rich, and the cranes loom over dozens of unfinished skyscrapers, it’s still an impressive city for its wealth.  The taxis are Toyota Camrys (the car I drive in the US) because those who ride in them are used to driving Mercedes, the police cars are Beamers, and live-in home helpers from other countries are so common that health clinics sell first aid books in dual languages (English/Filipino or English/Sri Lankan).

And Church's chicken is called Texas Chicken

And what’s it like to live here?  The BF’s brother-in-law describes this as the safest city he’s ever been to, and his sister describes it as “a little America,” as everyone speaks English and just about any amenity found in the U.S. is also available here.  Water is more expensive than gas, but those who can afford the nice homes can also afford the expensive utilities to keep their grass green and their home air conditioned, as well as hire a live-in home helper who becomes an additional family member, and send their children to a British run private school.  But the family misses Turkey, with its cooler climate, sucuk and simit, family, and familiar culture and language, and looks forward to returning permanently upon retirement.

And the Arabic culture and Islamic values?  You see them present in the “ladies only” cars on the metro or lines in the supermarket, in the frequently ignored requests at the malls to dress appropriately by “covering shoulders and knees,” in the zero tolerance no drinking and driving laws, the prayer rooms built into malls and airports, and in the burqas accessorized with Chanel handbags, D&G sunglasses, and gold and diamond jewelry, walking next to the miniskirts accessorized with the same brands.

Despite the 110+ degree heat and being sick with bronchitis this past week, I’m very glad I came here at least once while the city isn’t too far past the peak of its wealth that created things like palm shaped islands extending into the Arabian Sea.  And it’s been great meeting and getting to know the rest of the BF’s family, who are easy to feel at home with.  I’d come again for family, in the wintertime preferably, but its barely tolerable summer climate and lack of cultural originality don’t make it an ideal vacation spot for me.  I wish I hadn’t been sick and therefore had more time to do and see more while I’m here, but I am looking forward to returning to cool (relatively) and cultural Turkey for 10 more days.

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sick

Way to start off my time in Dubai – by getting sick.  We arrived very late Saturday evening/very early  Sunday morning at the airport that has flights arriving all hours of the night.  It took a while to go through customs, just because the lines were so long, but the BF’s brother-in-law and his son picked us up and we spent a little time visiting with his sister before going to bed.  Yesterday afternoon, we went to the mall of the Emirates, but I didn’t make it to see the indoor skiing because I started feeling very tired and light-headed.  After going home and taking a nap, I discovered that I had a fever.  I’ve been resting a LOT, taking aspirin and theraflu.  The fever has gone down some, and hopefully I’ll feel better soon.

Fortunately, the BF’s family is so hospitable and kind, so if I’m going to get sick on this trip, this is the place to be.  The BF’s four year old niece is so cute and talkative and immediately attached to me.  She calls me “abla,” which means sister, and is always asking for me if I’m not around, “Where is Abla?  Why won’t she play with me?”  Except for this morning, when she forgot our names, she called the BF “the orange one,” and me, “the other one” or “the pink color,” referencing the color of our shirts.

Here are some pictures of the precious little lady who’s been constantly vying for my attention –

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Çeşme

Due to some problems with our rental car and lack of time, we went to Çeşme, a beach town closer to Izmir, instead of Fethiye and stayed at the BF’s sister’s summer home.  Which was good, because less time traveling meant more time relaxing on beaches :)  I’ve posted some pictures on flickr, which you can access to the links to the right of this post.  I hope to write more about our times there.  But for now, we’re flying to Dubai this afternoon and will be there for a week visiting the BF’s sister and family!

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the kafe scene

Times in Izmir have been good so far.  We’ve got a very relaxed schedule here – typically I sleep in until 10 or 10:30, the BF picks me up around noon, we get lunch somewhere, spend the afternoon exploring some of the city, hanging out with friends, or reading at cafes.  Then in the evening we either go to a church event, or go out to eat, and stay up late either just the two of us or with other friends at a café, drinking çay and enjoying nargile (otherwise known as hookah), take the last bus home around midnight or walk home, and then I usually make it to bed around 1 or so.

I really enjoy our time at various cafes, whether we’re just relaxing and reading or talking and laughing with friends.  Turks, especially young ones, spend a lot of time at cafes, hanging out, playing backgammon, smoking nargile.  We’ve been to Denizpark, a café right on the bay in Bostanlı, a couple of times last week.  The view is gorgeous and when there’s a nice breeze, it’s so comfortable, and also has free wifi.

Yesterday, we spent the afternoon at Kahve Diyarı, a very upscale looking, two-story café also with free wifi in Karşıyaka, which I found out today is a chain with several locations around Izmir, as well as a few in Istanbul and a handful of other cities.

A couple of nights ago, after an over-priced fish dinner, we spent the evening at Kafe Tombeki in Bostanlı, which has the look of an irish pub but a great patio area to sit outside and enjoy nargile.

But the most frequently visited cafe has been Kafe Paris, in Bornova, which I’ve mentioned before as the street near the university that always populated by students.  We’ve been there four times with friends, as it’s a favorite of theirs.

I’ve even learned how to order on my own at a café, “Açık çay alabilir miyim.”  It took me a couple of days to get it down and get the courage to use Turkish with someone who’s not a friend, even though Turks frequently comment on how good my accent is, which I think means that I’m pronouncing things correctly.

Tomorrow we’ve got a rental car and will be driving to Fethiye to spend a couple of days there and in the surrounding areas.  Then on Saturday we’re flying to Dubai to spend a week with the BF’s sister and her family, then we’ll spend 6 days in Istanbul, before spending 4 more days in Izmir before returning back to the US.  Due to visa interview scheduling issues, we extended our stay in Turkey 6 extra days, which I’m pretty happy about because our time here is just flying by.

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