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Spring in Cappadochia

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At only three hours (at least if I’m driving) from Ankara, Cappadochia is the by far the most rewarding short trip from the capital.  So far I’ve seen it in late fall (https://libertinelog.com/2012/11/27/devil-towers-or-fairy-chimneys-a-weekend-in-cappadocia/) and spring – I’m so enamored of the place that now I’ll go back to see it in every season.  Luckily most visitors to Turkey make a trip there (if you have time, you usually choose between Cappadochia and Ephesus as your Anatolian destination, and if you’re lucky, you do both) so I think simply by escorting my guests during my tour here I’ll cover all the seasons.  Both Ephesus and Cappadochia are essentially piles of rocks, just created by different methods.  The great thing about Turkey is that the people are so warm and welcoming that even if you quickly bore of looking at Roman ruins or geological wonders, there will be some local diversions, like a guy selling dondurma (ice cream) with a show full of funny tricks, that revives your interest.

An Olmsted family from France came for a day in Ankara (all you really need to see the city) and a weekend in Cappadochia.  This was my first trip in Turkey with kids in tow and I think its a great place to bring them along.  Just in Cappadochia, the kids got to crawl all over a cave city, ride a camel, eat crazy ice cream, climb all over rocks, and stay in a cave hotel.  Turks are especially friendly to children and will usually give them a small gift, even if the adults in the group refuse to buy anything.  Sometimes their overt love of children can be overwhelming though.  While we were touring the Goreme Open Air Museum, some people would come up to the kids and pick them up without asking the child or parent’s permission – and I’m not just talking about the Turks here! All kinds of tourists went crazy over a two-year old, although I have to admit, he is pretty adorable.

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Another warning: negotiate the price of a camel ride before the kid gets on – otherwise, you’ve got no real leverage in the bargaining.  The kids wanted to ride a camel, and voila, as we’re walking to the museum, there were perfectly-placed camels.  The camel-runners just reached out for the kids saying “Gel” (come) and put them up on the camel, threw a mom on one and some other kids on another, and then took them for a little circuit.  Of course, afterwards, they asked for 60 euros for the 15 minute experience!  We were able to change it to 60 TL, but it was still a racket.  The next day we saw the same kid asking 6 euro for a coke!

I’ve talked about the Goreme Open Air Museum before – it’s a monastery area full of churches with beautiful frescoes from the 10-14th centuries and one of the first UNESCO sites in Turkey.

We also visited the Derinkuyu underground city, but I had camera issues again so no pictures.  It’s very similar to the Kaymakli Underground City that I wrote about in November, but Derinkuyu seems deeper with more offshoots that you can explore, depending on how long you’re comfortable walking nearly bent in half in order to see another cave room.

We stayed at the Vezir Cave Suites, where all the rooms are built into a cave or fairy chimney.  I cheaped out and had a ground level room, but my friends got a room in the chimney with great views of the rocks and the balloons in the morning.  The only problem with cave hotels is the lack of ventilation, which sometimes causes a sour/musty smell to develop.  I only noticed it in my bathroom, which was at the back of my room, but in the upstairs suite it was hard to miss.  There is a cluster of this type of hotels in Goreme, and if you climb all the way to the top, you can walk above the hotels and check out the city and an amazing sunset view.

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Food is good everywhere in Turkey, and Cappadochia is no exception.  The specialty of the area is a clay pot with a meat stew cooked inside, making for very flavorful and tender meats.  We got one chicken, beef, and lamb, and had no trouble getting them down.  It’s the first time I’ve been served the dish flaming (kind of like fajitas in USA).  As another flourish, they break the pot in front of you so you get the first whiff of your yummy meal!

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Megan and I got up early to check out the sunrise balloons over the Rose Valley.  Once again I was amazed at how captivating the hot air balloons are.  Even in a beautiful setting with crazy rock formations, you just can’t stop looking at the balloons.  If you’re playing photographer, they become the focus of every picture!  Here are some of my shots:

Finally, my favorite part of our weekend, besides the great company, of course, was a hike we did in the Red Valley.  Our hotel manager recommended it as doable with kids, and even though imagining returning up the steps while we descended was daunting, overall it was an easy hike.  If you enter the Red Valley Parking Area, we took the hike toward the Uzumlu Kilesesi (Grape Church), which is the first left as you enter the trailheads.  I definitely recommend spending some quality time hiking through the rocks, especially in spring when the weather is so beautiful.

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The Grape Church is down the trail a bit, right next to a small cafe in the middle of the rocks.  At first we thought we could only look through the gate, but then the family at the cafe offered us the key to see the frescoes.  Finding something so beautiful in the middle of the rocks inspired me to try all the trails in the region – who knows what amazing stuff is down there!  Future guests, bring your hiking shoes!

Of course, right across from the church was an old winery, also built into a rock chimney.  Here’s the view of the valley and a vineyard from the storage area:

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Baking for Refugees

Years ago, I remember buying a t-shirt that said something like “It will be a great day when schools get all the money they need, and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”  Then I joined the Navy and realized that even in the richest military in the world, we don’t have all the money or resources that we need.  In fact, I have yet to be a part of an organization that was equipped with all of the resources required to accomplish its goals.   So, spoiler alert – this post is about trying to raise money for refugees in Ankara, and includes a link where you can donate if you’re so inclined.  Thanks!TUK01_2011_0313_Zaman_Mohammed_story_Dollsj_26

I’ve been teaching English at the Ankara Refugee Center for a few months now.  It’s actually one of the most fulfilling things I do here in Turkey.  I have the Advanced Conversation Class with a student load of 3-15 students per week.  As refugees come and go the class size shifts dramatically, but the constant change makes for interesting conversations.  Right now, we’re going through a book on idioms, which is an ideal springboard to get people talking while learning.  I know from learning Turkish how important is just to practice speaking, about anything, really, to make the tongue more fluent.

Unfortunately funds to support all of the refugees in Turkey have not caught up with the influx of refugees from the crisis in Syria.  Numbers increase daily, but before the Syria war started, the average daily total for refugees in Turkey hovered around 55,000.  Now it’s upward of a half-million and growing.  Most international funds have been diverted to the needs of the war refugees in the camps on the border who expect to return to Syria when the conflict is resolved.

The rest of the normal influx of refugees, from countries like Iraq, Iran, and Somalia, are working through their UN refugee status and procedures for follow-on to a third country.  Turkey is rarely the final destination but frequently a transfer country for refugees.  For these refugees, both Turkey and UN proscribe strict rules that usually confine them to an assigned city, with frequent check-ins with the local police.

Most of my students left their native country, like Iraq or Iran, for a variety of heartbreaking reasons, and set up new lives for themselves in Syria.  Then, when the fighting broke out, they found themselves double-refugees in Turkey.  As they aren’t allowed to work, they depend on aid for daily living expenses.

The Ankara Refugee Center provides food, clothing, legal aid, English and Turkish education, and emergency assistance for refugees assigned to Ankara and nearby municipalities.  The center is on the brink of closing because most of the funds from its primary sponsor, Jesuit Relief Services, have been diverted to the border camps.  However, these people are still in need.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I woke up at six to bake some goodies to raise some money for the refugees in Ankara.  I don’t bake a lot, mostly because I prefer improvisational cooking to precisely following the steps of a recipe, but also because when you live alone you have to offload your cookies or cake quickly, or you end up eating it all yourself.  When I do bake, however, I’m always surprised by how little time it takes to make something so good!

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Yesterday I made one sweet and one savory item for sale: Cheddar Bay biscuits and Irish Coffee Brownies.  The biscuits (except the batch I burned) were awesome, and even as the only the savory item for sale didn’t sell out.  The brownies did a lot better, but I though they turned out a little dry.  I’m still getting to know my oven, and since I don’t bake that much, I don’t really have a repertoire of go-to recipes.

We held the bake sale on the opening day of soccer for all the international schools in Ankara.  I really enjoyed doing the bake sale.  Although it rained later in the afternoon, it was a great opportunity to sit outside on one of the first sunny days in Ankara.  I met lots of people from all over the world and we were able to spread the word about the refugees right here in Ankara to other city residents.  We made about 3000 TL, which is around $1650.  No, we didn’t sell that many cupcakes.  Most of the money came from HK, a former LPGA golfer who was selling golf lessons.  But the important thing is that we replenished the emergency fund a bit and can keep the center operating for a bit longer.

Of course all this information isn’t presented without a purpose.  We made a good dent with the bake sale and have other fundraising ideas, but it would really help if you could donate something too.  We set up a campaign at indiegogo.  If you can donate to help the refugees, or know of somebody who can, please check out the campaign here:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/ankara-refugee-centre

Thanks so much!!!

Pretty Things in Paris Part II

Who doesn't love Paris metro signs?

Who doesn’t love Paris metro signs?

Somehow I fell off the blogwagon, and now I’m three trips behind! So today I’m going to finish up with the Paris trip, mostly by sharing pictures.  For those who are concerned, I have not become a francophile.  If you saw my perfectly fluent French-speaking friend Axel’s face in response to my French pronunciation attempts, you’d agree.

Laurie and I did a foodie tour of Paris, with trips to the Grand Marche Epicerie, the most amazing chocolate shops I’ve ever seen, and a few macaron bakeries (my favorite).  You can even take a class to learn how to perfect your own cookies, but I didn’t book soon enough on a busy Spring Break week.  Another morning we did the weekly shopping on Rue Cler, where Julia Child used to shop for her produce!  As I’ve mentioned, everything in Paris is so pretty, and the fruit and vegetables are no exception.  Even on Monday, when a lot of the shops where closed, I caught whiffs of various fruits and vegetables as we walked down the street.

One afternoon I decided to check out the Dali Retrospective at the Centre Georges Pompidou.  I’m obviously no Parisian, as I really enjoyed the modern building and its odd features.  I had a lot of time to check them out, as it was the last day of the exhibit and I probably stood in line for three hours or so to get to the galleries.  Luckily there was a group of easy on the eye Viking-like guys ahead of me, so I wasn’t too bored.  We were frequently passed by classes of schoolkids with little sketchbooks, which seemed very French to me, since Dali’s work is definitely risque.  I can’t picture a group of American eight-year-olds plopped down in front of the Masturbator while their teacher highlights its complexities.  Unfortunately, even with the long wait, when we finally did get into the show every gallery was packed and fighting the crowds lessened my enjoyment.  Still, I hadn’t seen that many works of Dali in one place ever, and the whole experience was worth the trouble.  Although I think he’s a great artist, what I really admire is his spunk and imagination, both of which seem to come through in all of his works.

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We Stopped Here Just at Time by Ernest Leto: weird looking but it smells great

Since the Pompidou Center is full of modern art, I spent a little time checking out the other works.  I have low museum tolerance these days, so in lieu of checking out every room I just wandered the main halls and checked out galleries where something caught my eye.  The most interesting was a work by Ernest Leto, and instead of just looking it was an experience of smell and a pleasant surprise after so many hours of just looking.  Each of those fabric legs is full of spices, like cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.  I think it looks like a spice merchant ran out of containers and started using his wife’s stockings to keep the goods.  Because it’s such a departure from what you expect at a modern art museum I think it was my favorite thing there.

Another afternoon I walked through some of the hidden passageways in Paris.  These are beautiful shopping arcades full of tiny super-specialized shops selling everything from stamps to old postcards to dollhouse lighting supplies.  As with most things in Paris, each shop was absolutely beautiful.  I briefly considered becoming a philatelist and started looking for stamps and postcards from the Ottoman times.  As soon as I started asking prices I jumped off that idea – some of those stamps would wipe out my entire travel budget!

Finally, I just walked around the city.  Even on a cold foggy day, the Tuileries are beautiful, as are the rest of the streets in the inner arrondissements.  Here’s a sampling of what I saw on the streets:

It was so hard to leave Paris and go back to Ankara for class, especially after sharing such great days with my hosts,  Laurie, Axel and their kids.   On my way out I had one more favorite site: the people movers at Charles De Gualle!  I hope I can find time to make it back to Paris during my Olmsted tour – it’s such an amazing city.

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Pretty Things in Paris – Part 1: Versailles

I’m a little behind on my blogging goals since I lost internet earlier this week.  I won’t bore with you the details, but getting it back took several days and phone calls and technician visits.  So, here’s a bit about my trip to visit friends in Paris last week.

Some fellow foodie friends are living in Paris while attending the French War College – what a post, eh?  So I took advantage of a free week from teaching English to refugees (post about that to follow, one of these days) to go and visit.  I’m lucky enough to have been to Paris enough times before to have seen the big sites, so this time I decided that I just wanted to walk, look at pretty things, and eat gorgeous food.  Not to say that Turkey is ugly, but when it comes to beautiful streets full of beautiful people and beautiful shops, Paris may have the rest of the world beat.

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the view from my room

So, on my quest to be surrounded by beauty, I spent the first day on a trip to Versailles.  Since there’s no Spring Break in Turkey, or at least at my university, I had forgotten about this phenomena, and how many people like to travel during this period.  The palace was terribly crowded – I wouldn’t even try to go there in the summer.  The line to enter the palace was about an hour’s wait, and it was really cold, so after buying my ticket I played my Turkish card and, um, joined the head of the line.  Once inside, you get a audio guide and then start your self tour.  Note – it’s really handy to have a set of headphones.  Otherwise, you have to spend the whole tour holding the guide up to your ear to hear the tour.

There were so many people that I didn’t spend long reading any of the information about the various phases of the palace and its restoration.  Google recently sponsored the beginning of the tour, with lots of cool movies and 3D presentations about the history of Versailles – if you’re there on a not-so-crowded day, I’m pretty sure it’s amazing.  I got fed up with fighting the crowds and being poked and bumped that I kind of fast-tracked through the palace rooms and then escaped to the gardens.  These were beautiful, even in the middle of winter and with a restoration in progress.  You can imagine the splendor in the fairer seasons.  I also realized with all the bikers and dog-walkers that there must be entrances besides the tourist track through the palace and consulted the map.  In fact, there are several entrances, and if you live nearby, Versailles serves as the community park!  What a treat for the locals.  So, although I won’t go back to the palace, I’d love to see the gardens in bloom and just spend a day soaking up the beauty.

Here are some of the images:

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