Skip to content

Posts from the ‘afar’ Category

A Little Bit of Turkey in My Seoul

Doesn’t this look like a shop in Turkey?  It’s right in the middle of Seoul, across the street from a couple of Turkish restaurants.

img_5925

For those new to the blog, I used to live in Turkey, and I spent a lot of time in shops just like this, to the point that our home is usually filled with all kinds of Turkish delights.  On our way home from dinner the other night, we walked by a window full of lamps and beautiful colorful pottery, Istanblue.

When we walked in, Todd said Merhaba, and the shop owner replied Merhaba with an uncertain questioning tone.  We exchanged all of the normal pleasantries in Turkish, and then our new friend Kenan set about making us some tea.  But he quickly decided to make Turkish coffee instead, since the tea he had on hand was actually from Montana (small world).  We felt at home and trasnported, happy to be welcomed by a warm-hearted Turk.

As we sat and shared coffee and stories, I kept looking at all of the lamps on display.  Since we’re now living in mostly empty quarters while we wait for our stuff to arrive, the house seems drab and very, very white.  Wouldn’t a big bright colorful lamp be just the thing?

We quickly found one we liked and went through the standard haggle.  Our choice was slightly cracked on the inside, leading Kenan to offer us a price much lower than I thought was the bottom line – SCORE!  The shop took a few days to repair it and we just picked it up last night, after more tea and a whammy conversation about politics in both of our home countries.

Since this shop is on our walk from the subway to our front door, I know we’ll be drinking lots of tea with Kenan and keeping my Turkish skills in good shape.

 

A Day at the Lilliput Children’s Cafe

Imagine a really nice, gentrified Chucky Cheese, where each play area has a minder, all of the games are free, there’s no weird animatronic show, the food is good, and they serve beer – that’s Lilliput Children’s Cafe. 


We visited this weekend with some friends from my new job and their littles. Because it was a snowy cold Sunday we actually had to wait about 15 minutes to get into the cafe, and it was crowded the whole time we were there. They had lockers for coats and shoes and a few small kids chairs in the lobby for us. You can only stay for 2 hours so the wait usually isn’t too long. 

I was worried that Baby Jo was going to lose it because she was a bit behind on napping for the day, but she rallied as she always does for her 2 straight hours of play. 


Todd and I traded off adult conversation and beers with following Jo around the play areas. She started in the bounce room/ball pit, which also had an interactive screen so you could throw the balls at moving targets and get fruit to explode, aliens to melt, or whatever the little game was at the time. I think that was more for parents’ enjoyment, and I definitely threw more than my share of the balls. I also appreciated the very loose tolerances required for hits. 

From the ballpit Jo crawled through a small padded play gym up and down ladders and slides and eventually found the upstairs doll loft. 


There were tons of dolls, doll houses, and all of the accessories for play. And below it was a kitchen and grocery store, with carts or strollers to push around. 


Meanwhile, kids are running all over the place, back and forth between activities. A few are also lapping the room on small cars. It’s a happy chaos reasonably controlled by the parents and staff. 

Eventually we realized that Jo was just fine on her own. Due to her standout coloring (to Koreans) the staff were all excited to play with her and of course, our social butterfly just loved it! 


I have a feeling we’re going to be asking this a lot: Why don’t we have places like this in the U.S.? Or do we, and i just don’t know about them? 

Korean Bathroom Fun

 There are curiosities at every turn in Seoul. Today I went to a children’s cafe and was amazed at the simplest of things – the toilet!

    The bathroom attendant kept pointing at my slippers, and then at the floor. What could she mean? There were some wacky looking Union Jack slippers inside the bathroom – so I slipped my cafe slippers off and slipped my feet in those. Relief – she let me in. 
    And then she directed me to the male head. “Lady too long.” Fine, I thought, any toilet was fine. 

    I was so happy when I sat down and felt the heated seat – whew, I love modern Asian toilets!   But then I couldn’t find the handle to flush, because it’s not there. Instead there’s a panel on the wall with several options. 

    What button would you push? I went with the colored one, and it did the job! Stand by – I’ll try each button one day in a less busy setting and report on all of the options. 

    On my way out I saw the boy’s urinal – isn’t it cute? I almost threw some water down to see if it lit up or played a message, but I could hear people waiting outside. 

    Completing the BENELUX Loop in Luxembourg

    We completed the BENELUX segment of our trip with a short stay in Luxembourg City. Like Belgium, Luxembourg restaurants follow very strict schedules, and in pursuit of lunch past the standard 2 pm closing time, we practically drove all over the tiny pocket country looking for an open restaurant until we finally got sandwiches at a gas station.
    The highlight of our stay was an amazing meal at an Italian restaurant, Mosconi’s, in the Old City. Besides the fact that it was super luxe, I’m not sure how much of the actual Luxembourg culture we absorbed here. I have to mention it, though, because it was the first great meal of our monthlong trip. It was the fanciest restaurant I’ve ever enjoyed. We actually had to ring the doorbell to get in, then we were escorted to an elevator while the host ran up the spiral staircase around us to meet us at the top. Our mouths were quite happy with all of the amuse-bouches that were offered. Instead of just one snack to start the meal, we had several at the beginning of the appetizers, the mains, and dessert. Our first tastes were smoked mackerel with citron and a pumpkin soup. Then we had a seven course pasta tasting menu.  Every course was both surprising and tasty and by the time we got to the end, we didn’t feel like we couldn’t make it through dessert, which we were committed to as we had to order it at the beginning of our meal. Mine was just okay, so I’ll write about Todd’s, which was called Chocolate Emotion. It was everything chocolate arranged like a sculpture of a forest scene on his plate, complete with tiny merengue mushrooms that I took care of for him.  Each bite was amazing for him, to the point that when the waiter asked him how it was, he said it went right to the sole. The waiter replied “tutto solo” which I guess means the same thing in Italian, then told all the other staff about Todd’s comment.  The rest of the staff kept pointing to us with bemusement – I think they’re going to change the name!

    We spent the next day exploring around Luxembourg City.  We started with breakfast across from the Palace, where the royal family still lives.  We had prime seats to watch the occasional marches of the guard and even saw it changed a few times.  Our table in the sun was perfect, since we chose the Luxembourg Country Breakfast and definitely needed a comfortable place to get through all of the offerings.

    We got lost on self-guided walking tour of the town that we got from the Tourist Office, so we decided to just wander and see what we could.

    I feel like wherever I go abroad, there’s always a random bride on the streets.  This one was getting her picture taken in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

    Most impressive were the churches, especially the light hitting through the stained glass windows at St. Michael’s Chapel:

    And the Notre Dame Cathedral:

     

    We also liked the market, which was in full-swing when we first arrived on this square, and then completely taken down and cleaned up the early afternoon.

     

    If you want to experience the amazing Mosconi’s Restaurant, check it out here: http://www.mosconi.lu/

    It alone is worth a trip to Luxembourg.

    Magic through the Mist in Amsterdam

    IMG_0225

    our arrival – not magic

    Amsterdam greeted us with heavy rain that turned to hail, right at the moment of uncertainty when we were trying to figure out how to reach our apartment using public transportation.  As the raindrops got harder and heavier, we groupthunk our way to the taxi stand and hopped in.  Luckily the place was close and the cab cheap.

    Then we (mostly Todd) had to lug our heavy bags up the steep narrow stairways to our apartment.  Classic Amsterdam homes were mostly built by shipwrights and include some features that you might recognize from ships, like stairways that seem like ladders leaning against the wall, with very narrow steps.  Our place also had a hook installed outside of the top floor front window, which was used to load large items into the home when they wouldn’t make it around the stairway corners.  Homes were also built very narrow, as they were taxed based on their width on the street, like shotgun houses in New Orleans.

    Here are a few pictures of our place and others:

    We had a very laid-back relaxing week in the city, which was partly due the rain but mostly because our apartment was so comfortable.  When we did get out, we did lots of walking, eating and shopping, but not so much straight-up tourism.  With the leaves changing colors for fall and the canals as backdrops, we walked almost everywhere.  Because we stopped so often and took lots of pictures, occasionally we had to hail a cab or call an uber in order to show up to our reservations kind of on time.

    We did manage a walking beer tour.  We met our guide at the biggest beer store in Amsterdam, where they had an impressive array of bottles from most of Europe and even a shelf of American craftbrews.  We were happy to see that some of our favorites from San Diego were well represented.  Heineken ran the beer industry in Holland for a long, long time.  People took loans from Heineken in order to open bars, but then committed their bars to serving only Heineken beers for the lease period.  Nowadays there are some small Belgian breweries popping up with their own brews, and a general excitement about the American and Belgian craftbeers.  My favorite was a scotch ale, which apparently was the standard Holland beer before Heineken took over and started popularizing whatever you all their stuff.

    Our beer tour guide also bought us a ginevre (Dutch liqueur) on our way from one brewery to the next, which is what most of the pictures in the gallery below show.  This is one of the oldest bars in the city, and was really small with people drinking from their tiny glasses spilling out onto the street.

     

    Our attempts at tourism also included a visit to the Rijksmusuem, where we saw many works of the Dutch Masters, including the Night Watch, which is featured as the central work at the museum, kind of like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  The Night Watch, in my humble opinion (and I’m no art critic) is way more interesting than the Mona Lisa from just about any perspective.  They’ve done a lot of research into the painting, and in 2008 even identified the actual people who stood for the painting.  My heart quickened its beat when I entered the Hall of Masters at the Rijksmuseum, and I remained blown away for hours after we left.  These guys really knew how to work the brush.

     

    After the museum closed, we took a close-to-sunset canal ride, where we took even more pictures of the canals from the water.  Because we were among the last people to board the boat, we ended up in the back, outside, with no audio narration.  It was a beautiful ride through a beautiful city, but all of the history was lost to us.

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

    We had lots of amazing food, including a tasting menu at De Kas, which is Dutch for greenhouse.  The restaurant is inside an old park greenhouse in a residential area of the city.  Now they use the greenhouse to grow veggies for the restaurant, and source the rest of the food from in and around Amsterdam.  We had the three course lunch, which included lots of veggies, a salad with fish and beet syrup, and a fish main.  The dessert was one of the best spins on yogurt that I’ve ever had, especially since I’m no yogurt fan.  Since we were some of the last diners, they also brought us the extra wine to finish – score!

    Since we loved it so much, if you’ve made it this far, I reward you with ANOTHER gallery of Amsterdam street pics.

    First, the bikes.  It’s a huge bike culture, with bike lanes everywhere.  Instead of looking out for cars, you have to look both ways twice for bikes.  I had more than a few run-ins with them and never quite learned my lesson.

     

    And some other random shots:

    Beer and Other Indulgences in Belgium

    DSC_9817

    Brussels, Belgium was the first stop of our big fall trip, which takes us on a big loop through Europe.  Originally we were going to spend four days or so there, but then I found a beerfest in the Ardennes, and everything changed to accommodate that.  We had a local friend, so our first meal in Belgium was actually pulled-pork sandwiches at an Irish Bar, which is also the last meal she ate before returning to Brussels from living in San Francisco.  We still managed start the tour of Belgian beers at the Irish bar.  One of the fun things about Belgium is that every beer is served in its own glass – which leads to some crazy displays and glassware shelves at bars.  I tried to take pictures of them, but I was also enjoying the beer, so you can probably guess how that turned out…

    We also managed to do a mini-walking tour in Brussels, which focussed mainly on the Grand Place and Le Mannequin Pis but was really all about the amazing chocolate shops in the downtown area.  They actually have costumes for the pissing boy, and change his outfit weekly.  Unfortunately when we saw him he was only wearing the birthday suit.  Here are some scenes from around Brussels:

     

    I even got to eat my mussels in Brussels!  The best meal, however, was fries from a street vendor.  As we were walking toward the Grand Place for a free walking tour, I saw the stand and knew that was the best possible lunch that we could have!  And it was.  I got the classic fries with mayo, Todd got a gyro, and our friend Janelle got fries with curry ketchup and Bernaise sauce.  They had maybe 20 options for sauces, and the paper cones have a little compartment to put your dip of choice.

    Although I’d happily go back to Brussels to buy chocolate and other specialities, my favorite part of the Belgium segment of our trip was actually our drive to the Ardennes.  We went for the beerfest, Brassigaume, which is for small-craft breweries in Europe.  But since most of the hotels nearby were full, we ended up at a little country inn in Arlon, which was at the end of a road where villagers constantly set off for hikes in the fields.  When we arrived, there were hot air balloons in the skies at sunset.  When we left the next morning, Todd captured beautiful pictures of the low mist on the fields and surrounds.

    Although I liked the beers we sampled at the beerfest, what I really remember was the fork-tender perfectly braised roasted pig leg that Todd got for dinner.  It was cooked in a beer/cabbage braise, and somehow turned out to be the most amazing beerfood I’d ever eaten.  I had a braised wild boar served with a tart berry jam which was definitely tasty but had nothing on the pig.  The rest of the evening was spent meeting the other English-speakers in the crowd: a beer importer from Michigan, an American beerlover from Berlin, and a chatty British couple from whose conversational chase we barely escaped in order to get our last beers before the taps were shut off.

    Along with the fun of drinking beer with hundreds of other beer-lovers, we also learned quite a bit about the Belgian craft beer market, which helped us greatly when we returned to Brussels and went to bars with thousands of beers on offer: Delirium and Sudden Death.  If you make it to Brussels and enjoy the beer, check these places out!

    Happy Bayram!

    This weekend is Kurban Bayram, or Eid Al-Adha, or the Great Sacrifice Holiday, in the Muslim world.  This is based on the biblical and Koran accounts of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son.  In the tradition of Abraham, each head of household sacrifices an animal.  One third of the meat is for eating during the holiday, one third is given to friends and family, and the last third is given to charity.  This ratio and what to do with the meat varies by tradition, but rest assured that the meat is generally eaten and not just killed. I guess it’s not much different than every American family eating a turkey or two for Thanksgiving, and there the meaning is a little more obscure.

    Before the holiday, we saw a lot of signs advertising animal shares, where a bunch of brothers or friends go in together to get a bigger, fancier animal, like a cow.  As you can tell by the cartoons below, all of which basically say Happy Sacrifice Holiday, the common animals are either sheep or goat.

     

     

    Ankara’s authorized killing fields are outside of the city.  Last night on the news I learned that the fee for killing an animal yourself, outside of the approved sanitary facilities, is 169 TL, which is about $73.  So, depending on your financial situation, it might be worthwhile to take the risk and just DIY.  A friend on facebook reported seeing lots of roadside sacrifices as she was touring the outskirts of the city today.  Thankfully I haven’t seen anything in my pleasant corner of Ankara.  I still remember the nauseating smell of the sheep being brought into Antalya, a resort town, days before the holiday two years ago.

    Since the main purpose of the holiday has become charity, a lot of people choose to donate money instead of sacrificing an animal.

    The other tradition of the holiday is to visit friends and family.  Today, this means take a vacation back to your hometown, or just take a vacation if you’re not so religious.  Like major holidays back in the States,  roads are busy and public transportation is both booked and more expensive over the holiday period.  From the news reporting on the country’s road situation, I also learned that police doing standard traffic stops are first offering chocolate, then getting to the business of discussing the fines.  It’s festive, right?

    Bayram vacations

    Bayram vacations

    Since I have very few religious friends, I don’t have any personal experience with the holiday.  Last year I almost went to one of the sacrifice facilities with a friend’s dad, but decided on a vacation to a beach in the south instead.  Somehow I think I’ll always make the choice for sun over sacrifice.

    Ironically, this year’s Kurban Bayram falls on the same day as World Animal Day.

     

    download (2)

    Driving the Black Sea Coast: Sumela, Trabzon, and Sinop

    DSC_9384

    the view of the mountains in Altindere National Park

    After about a week of relative isolation in the mountains, Emily and I were not prepared for the tourist invasion at the Sumela Monastery.  As we drove into the park, located south of Trabzon, we felt accosted by the crowds.  Bodies occupied every space available on the roads, and the quality of the road in the Black Sea Region had not altered in the park.  On the way up the mountain, we stopped or backed up many times at curves in order up to allow another car to pass on the narrow windy road.  Eventually a park ranger ordered us to turn off the road and park up on a gravel hill.  We would be hiking the next kilometer into the monastery.  Even though the path was crowded and we had to pass through some strong body odor clouds along the way, I enjoyed the walk into the monastery more than the monastery itself.  I think after two years of living in Turkey, I may be at the end of my interest in ruins and religious sites.  I keep visiting, through, because these sites always seem to be located in beautiful places, and now I go for the scenery.

     

    look at the edge of the mountain, by the treeline, for the monastery clinging to the cliff

    look at the edge of the mountain, by the treeline, for the monastery clinging to the cliff

    Even though I’ve got the old stuff fatigue, I’ll give a quick history of the Sumela Monastery, which is known as one of the several Churches of the Virgin Mary (Meryema) in Turkey.  This one was founded in 386 AD by the Romans, and restored several times over the centuries by them, including a huge restoration and enlargement by the Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.  When the Ottomans captured the Trabzon region, the sultan protected the monastery.  The monastery was funded by the Greek Orthodox church.  It was taken by the Russians with their capture of Trabzon in the early 1900s and then abandoned in 1923 after the Greek/Turkish population exchange.  Until it was abandoned, it served as a holy place for Orthodox priests and a pilgramage site for the faithful.  It’s current state is a tourist attraction.  Here are a few pictures:

    After the monastery we drove back north for a night’s stay in Trabzon.  Along the way, we stopped at many local roadside shops and helped support the economy.  Emily, an amateur beekeeper, was impressed with all of the hives we had seen in the mountains, so we stopped and bought some honey.  Along with the typical wildflower variety, we got chestnut honey, a much darker and richer variety.  The guys told us to use it as medicine, a cure for whatever the ailment.  We also got a pasa table (yep, like the ones in the harem) and some Black Sea style ponchos.

    In Trabzon we couldn’t get to our hotel.  The Prime Minister was speaking in the central square, and most of the roads near the center were closed.  We spent about an hour trying to circumvent the blockade, then finally gave up and found a parking lot in a shopping area.  After sampling a local bakery (Trabzon bakers are famous all over Turkey), we found a bazaar and picked up some copper wares.  I wanted to buy everything in the shop but held myself to a Turkish coffee pot and a fish pan.  That night, we walked to the water for a pontoon restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, but were disappointed to find that they no longer had meze (just green salad) and did not serve alcohol.  So, we walked back into the city and found a pub, where we got our much deserved beer on a hot summer night.  It was definitely the right choice, as we also got a highly entertaining waiter who kept bringing us extas, including a small sample size of beer with our check.  Score!

    Before we left for Sinop, we spent the morning buying silver.  Trabzon’s signature is a light-colored woven silver thread.  You can get it in huge flashy pieces, rings, bracelets, or cute little silver knots.  We stocked up on gifts for friends and a few for ourselves, of course.  Besides the shopping, we didn’t see much else of Trabzon.  However, the friendliness and excitement of the copper sellers, the silversmiths, and our wait still left us with a good feeling about the city. 

    One of our easiest drives of the road trip was from Trabzon to Sinop.  We were mostly along the Black Sea Highway, which is a four lane fast highway with no cops enforcing speed limits.  We didn’t have any problems until we faced our usual GPS location/actual location conflict when we were actually in Sinop and trying to find our hotel.  Thankfully we could rely on old-fashioned technology of parking and looking down the coast to see that our hotel was most likely on the other side of the peninsula.  When we finally found the hotel, we were rewarded with a great sunset from the comfort of our room:

    I wish I had taken pictures of the amazing linen shop we visited in Sinop.  It’s in an old medresah (religious school) that’s been converted into a local crafts bazaar.  The owner-weaver sources linen thread (flax) from all over the Black Sea Region, and then weaves home items, clothes, and bags, and jewelry right in her shop.  I think we were both too focused on figuring out what to buy instead of tourist mode.  After shopping we made our way to the water and Emily got an introduction to a typical Turkish fish dinner.  Instead of sitting down with a menu and waiter service, you’re kind of accosted as soon as you enter.  The host shows you the meze, which you choose as you look into the refrigerated case.  Then you discuss the fish options, and then the drinks.  After all of this verbal picking and choosing is done, you finally get to sit down and relax.  I’m so used to this procedure that I didn’t even realize that it was a different system until Emily pointed it out.  I guess it is kind of weird to make a bunch of decisions in rapid-fire before you even get the comfort of a seat. 

    Since we were by the sea on a sunny morning, we took advantage of the hotel’s seawater pool to soak up some sun before we hit the road again.  It was also nice to look back east along the coast, and see how far we had come.

    IMG_0404

     

    U-Turn in the Kaçkars

    DSC_9308

    As we left Erzurum, we planned to drive through Kaçkar National Park, from its southwest to the northeast side. We found a neat eco-hotel on the other side and had made a reservation, which in our minds locked us on this path. According to google maps, the trip should have taken five hours or so. We would admire the view, drink spring water, and take lots of great pictures, all while covering distance in good time on our road trip.

    The road north from Erzurum quickly changed from a highway to a windy two-lane mountain road, but as we were in Eastern Turkey and had grown quite used to its variety of roads, we barely noticed the difference. We had the beautiful alpine-like Tortum Lake on our right side for a long spot, and then drove along its feeder river for most of the day.

    We stopped to check out the Tortum Falls along the way.

     

    We knew we had to drive northeast, and since we were headed in a basically northerly direction, we generally just chose to turn left at every fork in the road. Occasionally we stopped while a road was being repaved, or a bulldozer very methodically moved dirt around on a pass. At this point the road was not so much paved as flattened dirt, with lots of rocks and potholes. In a word, it was punishing.

    DSC_9349

     

    To get through without busting the car up, we had to watch the road very carefully and swerve to avoid boulders and puddles while keeping the car from falling off of the road’s edge. A few oncoming cars provided some breaks as inevitably one of us had to back up to let the other car pass. We made something like 15-20 kilometers per hour for a few hours. Each of us drove sections while the other admired the view and tried to snap pictures. Occasionally we caught glimpses of the snow covered peaks as we went around a bend.

    DSC_9351

     

    At some point the TomTom, our navigation system, told us to turn around. We had printed the route on google maps, and I had the directions spooled up on my iPhone, so we felt certain that there was a way through the mountains to the other side. As we passed villages, we smiled and waved at the folks milling around, as if to say, “We’re headed into the mountains on a great adventure.”

    We had lunch along the creek, across the road near an old concrete bridge.  The river was so loud that it was difficult to hear much of anything, and we got so lost in the scenery that we weren’t sure if any cars had passed while we were lounging.

     

    Finally, we reached then entrance to the national park and felt that we had basically made it. Of course the road in the national park would go all the way through to the other side. We stopped to check out the map post at the entrance, but since it just detailed various hikes that you could take, we found it thoroughly confusing. We also talked to a beekeeper at the entrance, who said it would take at least 5 hours to get to Camlihemşin, our destination. He advised that we turn around and take the northerly coastal route.  I checked my google maps on my phone again, but the route and directions had disappeared, and I no longer had cellular service.  Since we were already on this journey, we decided to just keep going.

    DSC_9358

     

    Kaçkar National Park is difficult to get to, and inside it we only saw signs of local life: villages comprised of a dozen or so clustered houses and an occasional store. However, it is absolutely stunning, which is probably directly connected to the few visitors it receives. Imagine beautiful green pastures and valleys with snowy peaks and a rapidly moving river right down the middle. If you’re brave enough for the road, or smart and just take a bus/minibus combination to get there, it’s definitely worth a visit.

     

    Of course, our visit involved peering out at the vistas combined with a constant nagging concern that we weren’t going to get “there.” As we ascended into the mountains, the road narrowed and the intense beauty of the place increased. At each village we passed, we noticed heads slowly turning to watch us pass, but again, we just smiled and waved. “Nothing to see here, folks, just a couple of girls driving up into the mountains.”

    DSC_9361

    At the highest village, we passed a few houses, pensions, and then a small village-style cul-de-sac with houses divided by tiny narrow alleys ended the road. Although we looked up each one, there was no way a car could fit through any of them, not even a Mini Cooper. We had reached the end of the road, with no option but to turn back.  We were a bit let down at this point, and didn’t even bother to take pictures.

    On the way back down the same terrible road we passed the same sites, the same bulldozers pushing dirt around on the pass.   We were conflicted the feelings of the defeat of not making it, the thrill of an adventure, even if our stubborness and stupidity caused it, and the joy of being in the midst of such beauty. Sure, we weren’t going to get to our destination for another 5 or 6 hours, and we had to drive all the way up to the coast and then all the way back into the mountains, but no matter. We went to the Kaçkars and didn’t get stuck or break the car. Yay!

     

     

    A Night in Erzurum

    Once again Turkey treated us to a variety of roads as we drove from Mt. Nemrut northeast to Erzurum.  The city is on a steppe near a bunch of mountains and is most famous for its nearby ski resort, Palondoken.  Since it was summer, we didn’t see any snow, although it wasn’t really warm either.

    Although we had read that Erzurum was a hip university town, neither of us was that impressed with the place.  We went to the Taşhane (jewelry bazaar) in search of its most famous product, black amber.  Everything just looked like black onyx, however, and was a little too embellished and glitzy for our taste.

    We did check out a few of the old Selcuk buildings.  My favorite was the Yakutiye medresah (religious school) with its neat column.  This school was actually built by the Mongols in 1362, but it follows typical Selcuk style.  If you look closely at the minaret, it’s covered with small coloful tiles.

    Because we got a little lost and then hungry for dinner, we never found the Main Mosque, which is supposed to have impressive views of the city and surrounding scenery from its citadel.  Instead we checked out another mosque, the Lala Mustafapasa, which was built in 1562.  Here’s a view from it’s porch.  I didn’t take any pictures inside because there were actually a lot of people praying.

    DSC_9292

    By far the most memorable part of our night in Erzurum was dinner.  The one place we knew to serve alcohol was inexplicably closed, so we ended up at a place called Erzurum Houses.  It’s a block of old Ottoman style houses that were bought up by a developer, combined, and then decorated in an overkill style with kilims, cushions, and antique stuff covering most surfaces.  Instead of dining rooms, there are nooks all over the place, so it’s pretty neat to check out every corner before you pick your perch.  I can’t say much for the food, and I’m sure if they served better stuff or drinks, they’d make a killing.  If you can lounge around all night just drinking tea, however, this would be your place.

    %d bloggers like this: