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Days in Antalya: tea – breakfast – tea – beach – tea – dinner – tea – raki – tea?

I just got back from a long weekend in Antalya with my Turkish teacher’s family, the Gürşens.  Although originally from Ankara, most of the extended family has relocated to the beach city of Antalya and all meet up regularly.

This was a true Turkish immersion weekend for me.  Riza’s family was super welcoming, warm, and funny – I immediately felt like one of the family.  When everybody was together, the language was obviously Turkish. Although I had been doing well in classes in Ankara and survival Turkish, I had a hard time keeping up with the language when everybody was talking at once and there was a lot of background noise at cafes and restaurants.  Still, I was able to get some of the jokes and tell a few of my own!

Both of his parents are nearly 90 but still going strong.  Ismail, the dad, has Alzheimer’s and behaves like a 13-year old – perfect for my sense of humor and language skills!  Although he doesn’t talk much, he is usually joking or dancing – everybody tries hard to be serious with him but he quickly refutes them with laughter.  The couple argues all the over time over silly things, like where on the table the napkins should be placed – it’s sweet and hilarious at the same time.


Right before I took this picture, they had fought about how to arrange the flower covering on the footstool. Eventually the Mrs. Gürşen gave in, then, while winking at me, put it back when he wasn’t looking.
We started every morning with Turkish breakfast, either at the parent’s flat or by the sea.  Here’s my view from one our tables.

clear water, looking down from our breakfast table

I think I’ve talked about Turkish breakfast before.  It’s huge!!!  The spread always includes breads, cheeses, jams, olives, butter, nuts, some kind of eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, some kind of non-pork charcuterie, fruit, and coffee or tea.  Sometimes there’s something special, like börek, which is a tower of filo sheets with cheese, nuts or meat inside.  When you go for breakfast, everyone eats and eats and eats while drinking more and more tea.

example of the Turkish breakfast table

Although I still prefer coffee, I’ve gotten used to drinking huge amounts of Turkish tea.  It’s served in tiny glasses in the shape of tulips (lale in Turkish) and drunk with lemon or sugar.  Some Turkish guys have actually told me that without sugar it can cause cancer – although I haven’t researched it, I’m chalking this one up to yet another Turkish superstition.  I’m trying to get by with a tiny amount of sugar in each glass – I haven’t counted, but I think it’s possible to have 20 or so glasses of tea throughout the day in Turkey, which would be a lot of sugar!

Each day after breakfast we went back to the flat and had tea and chatted, then eventually Riza and I would go explore a beach for a few hours.  Then it was back to the flat, for more tea of course, while the family got organized for dinner.


Dinners were out, either along the sea or in the old town, Kaleici, which is a neighborhood inside the old castle with winding streets, shops and cafes.

After dinner one night, Murat, Riza’s brother, taught me how professional raki drinkers enjoy their beverage.  Raki is the national liquor, made of grapes with anis flavoring.  Most of the grape harvest in Turkey goes to raki.  It’s similar to Greek ouzo or Italian grappa, but in my opinion much better.  It’s usually mixed with water and sometimes with ice.  Turks call it lion’s milk since the color gets a milky when you mix in the water and provides the same liquid courage as all alcoholic beverages.

So, back to “professional” drinking.  You take a sip or raki and keep it under your tongue.  Then you take a swig of water and swallow it all together.   I was skeptical but tried the method.  It does actually make the drink a little sweeter and mellows the sting a bit.

Although the weather was perfect for our time in Antalya, on Sunday morning the sky was crying, as Riza’s dad said, since Riza was headed back to the States.  Thunder, lightning, heavy rain and crazy winds made for a challenging drive back to Ankara for me, but I made it in 6 hours with no problems.

Rainbows and Grad School in Turkey

I’m taking a break from reading Aristotle’s Politika to write this blog entry and listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, which is one of the things I really miss from the States.  As I typed, I heard a small, rustling sound.  I immediately grabbed the broom and started hunting for the small animal or large insect that must have invaded my apartment.  When I crossed into the dining room, I happened to look out the window, and realized that instead of a rodent in my flat, hail was falling from the sky while the sun was still shining!  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my phone to take video before the hail became rain, but when I finally found my real camera, there was a rainbow! In Ankara!

I love rainbows.  My brother, who lives in Hawaii, used to joke that I came to visit the rainbows and saw my family on the side.   I assure you this isn’t the case, but now whenever I do see a rainbow, I’m reminded of all the great times with family in Hawaii.

Ankara is much prettier in the rain, at least from the elevated vista of my flat.  On the street, instead of getting dusty you get muddy, and the rate of car and pedestrian accidents goes up.  As I look out my window, though, all of the ugly concrete buildings look almost golden, and I almost let myself believe that a shiny wet road in the distance was a river lined with trees.   I opened the window to get a pleasant whiff of rain but can’t drown out the horns, brakes, sirens and shouts – it’s no idyllic paradise.

 

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I really meant to write this post about graduate school in Turkey.  Now that I’ve got a few classes under my belt, here’s my take so far.:

After about seven months of formal Turkish lessons and another few months of fitful self-study, I am taking two graduate classes at Cankaya University.  The Master’s is in Political Science with a focus on International Relations.  My first two classes are required courses, however, so right now I’m taking Political Theory and the Modern Political State.

This means that I read a lot of boring old stuff. So far, I’ve been reading mostly in English, since we have yet to encounter any Turkish writers and I figure a translation is a translation.  For instance, we read Plato’s Apology and are in the middle of his State in the Political Theory Class.  The Modern State professor is a huge fan of Terry Eagleton, who writes about the lost art of literary theory.  I absolutely hated literary theory in high school and college, and talking about it in Turkish doesn’t make it any more interesting.  I’m really looking forward to next semester when I can take classes that hold a little more interest for me.

Instead of a classroom, we sit around a conference table.  The professor talks/teaches about half the time and the rest is mostly discussion.  I’m amazed that I can understand as much as I do – I’d say about 80% right now.  My weakness is during the discussion, especially when students talk over each other.  I have an advantage in that I studied all this stuff my freshman year of college, and usually I can manage to remember the key points that a professor is trying to lead the discussion to; unfortunately my Turkish speaking isn’t as good as my listening, and sometimes I feel like a 10 year old explaining Plato’s problems with democracy.

We have no syllabus.  At some point in the class the professors give our reading assignments for the next class.  Throughout the week, one of the professors emails additional books or articles that he wants us to read and it really piles us.  I’ve spent a lot of time at the kindle store and elsewhere online looking for pdfs, and visited several used book stores looking for obscure titles.  I’m not sure how the guys who work full-time are going to read everything.

One professor gave us the point breakdown for a grade.  We have a final paper due at the end of the semester and a presentation due sometime in December, topics TBD.  I have no idea how we’ll be graded in the other class.

Despite my bitching about the all the dry reading, I’m actually enjoying the classes.  Both professors are dynamic and engaging, and my classmates are all pretty interesting.  The one other girl has a major crush on our professor and isn’t shy about flirting – this provides for lots of laughter.  We also have a kid who got into a lot of trouble for internet piracy and has pretty much taken the role of the class criminal.  He’s always willing to copy books or find assigned movies online and share them with everybody.  The other night while we were discussing Kafka’s father complex, this kid’s dad showed up to make sure his son was actually going to class every night!

Besides a Russian in one class, I’m the only other foreigner.  I am now the expert on American politics, history, and culture although I can’t vouch for the truthiness of my information.  When they asked me where Shirley Temple Black served as an ambassador, I assumed France.  I was corrected by google on somebody’s phone; she was ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.  Who knew?

Last Stop in the Balkans: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The last stop on my tour of ex-Yugoslavia/the Balkans was Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Unfortunately after almost 24 hours in this beautiful country I had to head back to Ankara for class.

the city of Sarajevo

The difference between Croatia and Bosnia is obvious when you cross the border, like the Orange County/L.A. boundary in California.  The road is a little older and the trash starts piling up on the shoulders and medians.  But then you’re driving along a pristine river (the Neretva) through gigantic rocky mountains and the stunning beauty is a distraction from pretty much everything else.

the bridge at Mostar

We stopped at Mostar on our way to Sarajevo.  This town is most famous for its bridge, which was originally built by the Ottomans in the 1500s and then destroyed a couple of times in various wars.  It was most recently rebuilt in 2004.  Even before the Ottomans built the architecturally significant one arch bridge, the town was known for and even named after a wooden bridge that crossed the Neretva River.  Mostar means bridgekeeper in Bosnian/Herzegovinian/Serbian/Croatian.  Lots of Ottoman buildings still stand around the town.

view from Mostar’s bridge

I felt like I was at home with all the Turkish shops and calls of “Gel” (Come) from the shopkeepers to passersbys on the cobblestone streets in this tiny town.  I actually searched hard to find a souvenir that was distinctly Bosnian and not Turkish.  Unfortunately, even though the town retains the charm of its Ottoman roots there is evidence of the recent war everywhere.  Because of its historic significance, Mostar was mostly rebuilt with gifts from foreign countries and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.  Just a few blocks from the bridge where we ate lunch, however, the building facades were scarred with bullet holes.

It took a little longer, but I slowly realized that there are an awful lot of graveyards in the country.  Parks were demolished to make room for the graves of all the war victims.  I couldn’t take more than a few grim moments reading the headstones at one cemetery outside of Mostar.

reality check – a not so pretty street right outside the old town of Mostar

In Sarajevo, I got a happy surprise when my friend Maja stopped by our hotel to say hi while we were checking in!  She had a job counting votes for the local elections that night so we made plans for coffee in the morning.   Interestingly, we followed several tour buses into BH from Croatia.  Our bus driver said they were likely BH citizens coming in from Croatia to vote.

More remnants and memorials of the war were scattered through Sarajevo.  In addition to an eternal flame, various sites on the streets mark battles from the war.

I spent the next morning with Maja and her friend Lamiya.  After a couple of coffees, they took me to a tiny kitchen for “the best chicken sandwiches in the world” as Maja described them.  I’m not a huge chicken person, but these actually were the best sandwiches I had ever eaten!  Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture or even google map it to find it again – no worries, I’m definitely going back to Bosnia so I’ll get the details then.

After our amazing lunch, we headed to the Avaz Tower (only skyscraper in Sarajevo) to take in panorama views of the city.  Sarajevo is small and surrounded by mountains.  And then we had more coffee.  Fair warning: Bosnians like to smoke and drink coffee.  A lot.

Both girls were intent on finding a way out of Bosnia.  They were kids during the war and think the country hasn’t gotten over it, nor are theysure that it ever will.  As I write this post I realize it’s impossible to talk about much in Bosnia without bringing up the war – it really is everywhere.

Sarajevo and its mountains

the other side of Sarajevo, more mountains

Still, I hope that Bosnia follows Croatia and boosts its economy with tourism.  The natural beauty is reason enough to come, and there’s plenty of history for everybody else.

My friends have plans to show me the rest of Bosnia – you’ll hear more about it this spring.

Hvar, my new love

I am a placist – I fall deeply in love with the places I visit or live in. I try not to judge but instead there is an unwritten list of the ones where I immediately felt some intrinsic connection or energy. Sometimes a place is just a one-night stand, like 24 hour port visit in some poor South American port town, where the only way you’re going to enjoy yourself is if you open your mind, and more importantly your heart, and just let it in. Longer affairs happen for me in quaint little towns, or beautiful national parks, like my favorite, Yosemite. Id happily go back to any of them. And then there are the lifelong darlings, where I know if I ever had to give up my wanderlust ways I could stay forever: New Orleans, San Diego, and Istanbul.
I was so taken with the island of Hvar, on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, that it jumped right past one night stands onto my list of diamonds.
As the ferry pulled into port, we saw small stone cottages tucked into crevasses on a peninsula. The water was so clear that you could see schools of fish swimming right next to the ferry’s hull, as well as the keel (really deep visibility). I haven’t seen that kind of water since Aqaba, Jordan in 2006.
Our bus driver agreed to drive us along the old road, which goes up over the ranges and through wild lavender fields. At a particularly scenic stretch we stopped to soak it all in. Along with lavender, we found wild marjoram and mustard plants to pick and keep in our pockets for pick-me-ups throughout the day.
The town of Hvar is on a beautiful harbor just past a square lined with shops and cafes. After a quick familiarization walk through the town, our guide recommended afternoon activities: hiking up to the fortress above town for panorama views, swimming at one of the island beaches, or, for the truly adventurous, hopping a boat over to the nude beach. We opted for a leisurely lunch and shopping. It was my last full day in Croatia and I wanted neat souvenirs.
We picked well. While we were eating lunch, a decked out wedding party marched down the hill on their way to the church at the end of the square. We cheered them on from our table, and the proud not at all nervous groom saluted us with Princess Diana waves.
Siesta foiled my plans to spend money at the local galleries. After browsing the disappointing shops that were still open, we decided on a quick dip in the Adriatic.
Instead of sand beaches, the town has little rocky coves with rock or iron ladders leading to the sea. We picked a secluded one where I thought it unlikely that anyone would see me changing. I embraced my inner German and stripped on the beach in order to put on my bathing suit.
To get to the water, I walked over some rocks, across a wooden plank, and then tried to keep my balance on some slippery rocks while climbing down into the sea. The precarious entrance was worth it: The Adriatic felt amazing! The water temperature was so perfect that as soon as I was in it I was comfortable – no shivers or looking for bath toys. I had the cove all to myself while I swam and played and just soaked up the bliss. I dove down and swam with a couple of schools of fish along the rocky bottom. My only complaint is the salt – I don’t think I’ve ever been in a sea so salty!
Totally refreshed by my dip in the sea, I was in a state of bliss for the rest of the day. We stopped at a vineyard, Plavanc, and tasted the best wines of Croatia. None were “insipid” like some of the others we tried.
So, I learned that you can rent the lighthouse on the island for a week at a time – anybody want to join me next summer?

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Croatia’s Dalmation Coast

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The trip was a little fast, and I didn’t do my normal coffee and internet cafe stops, so this post is going to be a lot more about pictures with a few highlights

From Zagreb, we headed west to the Dalmatian Coast, which is completely different from the interior.  Mountains often form natural barriers to a people’s cultural identity, and this is definitely the case with Croatia.  I’m not sure how many ranges we passed through on the way as I was dozing on the bus, but every time I woke up and looked out the window, it was a different set of mountains.

Every town was spectacular.  The first town, Opatija, was first a Jesuit monastery and then later populated by Austrian health spas.  Although a little run-down, it still has a resort feel to it.

Next was Rijecka, which means river in Croatian, Bosnian, Serbian, and a few other languages.  Most of the states of ex-Yugoslavia share a common language, although they all claim it as their nation’s own.    A few words are shared with Turkish, thanks all the Ottoman raids and sometimes domination.  The language is much more similar to Russian.  My godmother, Michele, who speaks Russian, did an amazing job with just a little help from the Croatian Pimsleur CDs.

We did walking tours in every city in which we stopped.  Each guide walked us through beautiful streets and squares filled with ruins from many of the famous civilizations in history.  The big ones on the coast are Greek, Roman, Austrian, Ottoman, Venetian, and then in the 20th century all the various modern oddballs.  Most cities built walls to repel the Ottomans, some of which still stand.   No tour guide failed to mention the disaster of Ottoman raids or rule on the town.  Either the city lived in perpetual terror of the approaching Ottomans but managed to build an impenetrable wall before their arrival, or the city fell and the Ottomans ruined everything.  I felt a little bad for my adopted country’s history.

There  are also churches everywhere, maybe because of 400 years of Venetian rule.  One town, Şibenik, had 24 churches for 45,000 people – wow!  The biggest one is the Cathedral of St. James, which is now a UNESCO site.  Although the church itself was pretty impressive, for me the most amazing part was the baptism chamber.  It’s a tiny room with a baptismal font right in the middle.  It was placed to allow the sun to shine through the upper windows during the baptism.  Angel sculptures above and below the fountain welcome the babies.  Yet another place in Croatia where you got that holy feeling.

In Split, after an amazing day on the island of Hvar, I managed to find the energy to walk into town to see Diocletian’s palace at night.  It’s another wonder, and another UNESCO world heritage site.  Diocletian was a Roman emperor who planned on abdicating and eventually retiring to his palace on the sea.  So, in the last 20 years of his rule he ordered his immense retirement home constructed, then got to live there for about 3 years before dying.  Although his cause of death is still unknown, both his wife and daughter were poisoned.

Along with being a truly amazing place, the palace is still occupied and used by the town for apartments, shops, cafes, bars, and music venues, making it an amazing night venue.  We got dinner while listening to a guy play mostly older American songs in a sunken courtyard.  The bar, Luxor, even serves drinks to the alfresco crowd.  In another odd connection, the bar is called Luxor become some of the pillars are believed to be stolen from Egypt.

More from Zagreb: the cult of death and a Jesuit mosaic master

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A huge cemetery, Miragoj, stands at the edge of Zagreb. It’s so big that there are actually more people buried inside the cemetery than living in the city! The place is absolutely gorgeous – perfect for a final resting place, or for a Sunday visit to your deceased friends and family. Outside the cemetery stands sell flowers and candles, and a majority of the graves were decorated with one or the other, or my favorite, a cross formed of wild fallen chestnuts. In the eaves of the cemetery wall, early city founders and notables, like famous poets and sculptors, rested in large sometimes ornate family tombs. In the lawn all kinds of tombs, from old limestone carved numbers to modern marble marvels were set in a park-like area. People frequently visit, so for a graveyard it was a quite the friendly, beautiful place.

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So from final resting places let’s switch gears to a place of great inspiration for the living. At the University of Zagreb’s Theology Institute, a Jesuit priest, who is also a master mosaic man (I’m not sure what the official word for that is, obviously) designed a beautiful wall of art for the parish church. Right now the church is incredibly simple, and I think when it’s done this mosaic will be all the decoration necessary to leave all visitors truly awe-inspired.
When we visited, the artist and his sister were well into their second year of installation and sixth year of work on the project.

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That’s the artist to left of the priest. Here are some close-ups so you can see the detail of all the tiny stones.

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Seeing a mosaic artist at work was a really incredible first for me. The whole scene, with the scaffolding, the pounding of the chisel and ducking fallen chunks of stone just blew me away. Most impressive, however, was the artist himself – I even got to shake his dusty hand!

Croatia with the Holy Rollers

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After all the beer and sinning in Germany, I joined my godmother on a group tour of the Jesuit mission work in Croatia for a little soul-cleansing. Although I was concerned about traveling with a church group, this is one fun-loving group of holy rollers!

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We started in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, a beautiful city full of museums, churches, and streets and alleys crowded with cafes. Incredible Croatian designer shops line pedestrian streets, although there’s no Gucci boutique. It was difficult to keep walking toward anything productive, like seeing a museum, because if I didn’t want to stop in a shop and buy something, I wanted to stop at a sidewalk cafe for coffee. I think that similar to Turkey, where it’s always a good time for tea, in Croatia it’s always a good time for coffee.

Despite all the tempting distractions we did manage to see a few historical/cultural sites.
Since a Jesuit priest is traveling with the group, we have mass every night in a different church, giving us an hour or so to really see a church. Most of the Croatian cathedrals are built in a combination of Gothic, baroque and other random European styles, but generally very ornately, so there’s plenty of artistic works to admire. At the really old cathedrals, we’ve been joining Father Waters on the altar, in centuries-old carved wooden stalls where the monks used to sit, it all feels very holy.

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At the University of Zagreb, we visited the Jesuits who run the theology and religion faculties. Amazingly, 80% of the students are female. As with most educational institutions in Croatia, the university was originally founded by the Jesuits. At several times in Croatia’s history, Catholics were suppressed (by the Austrian-Hungarian empire, or outright banned (by the Communists). Most of the universities and schools were taken over by the communists and are now run by the state. The Jesuits, of course, are still doing good works. Most impressive is the mosaic that a Jesuit priest is creating for the parish church. He’s been working for six years and expects to be finished in another 2.

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