My Wife Is Also a Blogger: A Year Without Bacon

Some of you might not know this, but my very smart and witty wife is writing a blog of our experiences in Turkey. It’s called A Year Without Bacon: Our Expat Life in Turkey.  She is a professor of Sociology at Michigan State University who was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and conduct research in Istanbul. For a different perspective, below is a selection of some of her posts about her experiences here in Turkey. If you’re not following her take on our adventures, you should. Enjoy.

I Go to Asia to Bake a Cake, and Have My First Istanbul Car Wreck – The things a mother will do for her children.

Our Trip to the British Consulate – Sometimes we get invited to parties.

The Awesome Place We Will Never Go to Again – How we found an indoor playground.

Everything Is Paper, and Paper Is Everything – Her experiences getting a Residence Permit.

“It Could Happen to You!” Empathy and Scorn in Human Trafficking – The reason we’re here is so she can do research on human trafficking.

P.S. As we say in Chicago, if you can’t help your family, who can you help?

P.P.S. We have yet to eat bacon since we arrived in Turkey.

Cappadocia – Fairy Chimneys, Zelve, Göreme, and Churches With Eye-Less Figures

During the two days we rode on tours through Cappadocia, we saw a lot of churches. Many had frescoes that were in remarkable condition for being over 1000 years old. One thing they all had in common was this: many of the people depicted in the paintings were missing their eyes.

I took to calling them names such as the “Church of the Eye-Less Mother,” or “Church of the Eye-Less Saints,” or “Church of the Eye-Less Jesus.”

“You’re so irreverent,” said my wife.

“Hey, I’m not the one who gouged out the eyes of Jesus or Saint George. I bet Mary is crying RIGHT NOW!” I said, channeling the Catholic Guilt of youth.

Our excellent tour guide Didem, who led us around on the second day of our tour through the area, explained that the reason so many of the eyes had been scratched out was that when the Muslims took over they had rules forbidding the depiction of the human form and were fearful of the “evil eye.” Hence the eyes were scratched out whenever possible.

Our second day of touring brought us into contact with the legendary Fairy Chimneys. First in the Devrent Imagination valley.

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Next near the Church of Saint Simon.

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This is the church of Saint Simon.

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I managed to climb up to the second floor. It was not easy. I made us of the fence-climbing skills I’d developed in my youth in order to get into forbidden places….

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Along with the tourists, there were some pheasants walking around.

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In the Zelve Open Air Museum we saw more cave dwellings.

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And a church that was converted into a mosque.

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Next we went to the town of Avanos where we watched a pottery demonstration. Here, within a few minutes, the man made a handled jug out of red clay.

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The place offered many beautiful pieces of high-quality, hand-made pottery, all at high-quality, hand-made prices. We did not buy anything. The kids were wound-up and bored, and began wrestling with each other, so we had to shuffle them out before they broke anything and forced us to make a premature withdrawal from their college fund.

Lunch was at a nearby restaurant. Once again, the kids were not interested in soup, fish, chicken kebabs, salad, or baklava. (Actually, Meredith can’t eat baklava since she’s allergic to walnuts.) So we ordered them some plain spaghetti. The lunch was leisurely-paced, so Steph and I were able to talk with an older couple from Australia who were sitting next us. The husband was a retired magistrate. They were spending a month traveling around Turkey before heading to Bali for a few days before returning to their home in Darwin.

After lunch we boarded the bus and rode to the Göreme Open Air Museum. Göreme has many churches with frescoes in good condition but we were forbidden from taking photos, even without a flash. So no photos of the frescoes of the chapel of St. Catherine, the Apple Church, the Sandals Church (not to be confused with Sandals Resorts), or the chapel of Saint Barbara. All I can offer is a sample of photos of the open air park itself.

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We left the park, made a short stop at Esenteppe to take a few panoramic photos of the Göreme valley,

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before making our final stop of the day, at the very tall Uçhisar Castle.

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After two full, exciting days we were actually glad we did not have any tours scheduled for the next day, Tuesday, or last day in Cappadocia.

Cappadocia – Sinasos, Sobessos, Soganli, and Kaymakli

Our first day in Cappadocia was spent in the town of Ürgüp. We arrived in the morning, left our bags at the hotel, headed into town to explore a bit and eat an early lunch. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel, where we hoped the kids might nap. No such luck, though my wife had a nice nap.

A fantastic travel agent, who was recommended by the local Fulbright office, got us our flights, our hotel, our transportation from the Kayseri airport to and from the hotel, and the two day-long tours. We were lucky to have all of this put together less than two weeks out because we booked our travel during the week of Kurban Bayram, when pretty much the entire country of Turkey goes on vacation to celebrate the Feast (aka Eid).

The next day, Sunday, the tour bus picked the four of us up from our hotel at 9:30am. Our tour guide, Özay, was wonderful, providing clear explanations throughout the day of what we were seeing and their importance both culturally and historically. There was so much information that I know I’ve forgotten much of it.

Did I mention our kids were the only kids on the tour? This proved to be the case both of the days we did tours. We saw very few children on tours in Cappadocia. This confirms the belief my wife and I share that the two of us are not the most sane people.

I mean, who the hell brings their kids with them while mom is on a Fulbright Fellowship? We are the only Fulbrighters in Turkey who have brought their children with them. The other scholars on Fulbright Fellowships either don’t have children or have children who are college age or older. And then my wife and I wonder why our kids sometimes act like spazzed-out goofballs….

There was a young couple from Taiwan, a global expat couple who were originally from Morocco, and a couple from Chicago (all hetero). There were ten of us in total in what is called a “dolmus” here; the kind of small bus (larger than a van) the kids ride back and forth to school.

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Our first stop was in the town of Mustafapaşa, This town was Greek until the “exchange” following the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish War from 1919-1922. There are many things in Turkey called the “Greek [something]” be it a school, mansion, church, town, whatever. I attended part of the Istanbul Biennial in a former Greek school.

We saw the remains of a church that was given the blessing of the Sultan. Here is the plaque on the outside of the church,

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and its translation.

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I thought I had taken a picture of the church itself, but apparently I didn’t. You can go here to see what the church looks like. I think I was listening to our guide talk about the church.

Keslik Monastery

Afterwards, we saw the Keslik monastery. There are frescoes inside which are roughly 1000 years old.

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Our kids liked that they were the only ones who didn’t have to crouch down to go inside the winery.

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Sobessos

Next we visited a recently uncovered ruins of the Roman Era town called Sobessos. We saw the bath,

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and the church. The floor mosaics were in remarkable condition.

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Soganli

The bus dropped us off and our guide Özay led us on a walk through the Soganli Valley, providing us with grand views of the countryside and closeup looks at a few of the small churches that dot the hills.

This is the Domed Church, named because its top was shaped like a dome.

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Below is a section of the path on which we walked.

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After our walk through the hills and valley in Soganli, we ate lunch (also included with the tour). Though we had to order french fries for our kids because they wouldn’t eat the salad, the freshly baked bread, the lentil soup, the delicious local stew, the fresh honeydew, or the yogurt with honey. Their loss.

Kaymakli

After lunch we rode the tour bus to Kaymakli Underground City. This was the highlight of the two days. Henry and Meredith both said it was there favorite. The passageways seemed endless. There were also several places where us adults had to scrunch down while our kids simply walked through.

Özay grew up in the town where the Kaymakli underground city was located. He said he’d been giving tours of the underground city since he was 13 years old. He also said he and his friends used to play hide and seek in the caves. Someone from our group asked him if he’d ever gotten lost in the caves and he said, yes, just once.

The passageways were narrow.

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There were places for living, sleeping, their animals, and food storage. They even had a place to grind spices.

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A church.

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The spaces kept expanding, winding, and going deeper just when you thought there couldn’t be more to it.

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The wheel here was used in case they were attacked. The people retreated to the caves and used a lever to move the stone wheel and clock the passageway. There were many of these wheels placed near the entrances to the cave and even some well within, in case invaders managed to get inside.

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After being underground for an hour in the dark and dimly-lit rooms of Kaymakli, it was good to top off the day with a visit to a view overlooking Pigeon Valley.

Pigeons have played an important role in the region of Cappadocia for thousands of years. If you notice in some of the pictures I’ve posted these past few days, above many of the cave dwellings you’ll see small holes marked with white. These are pigeon houses. The people who lived in the region fed the pigeons and collected their poop (called “guano”) to use as fertilizer for their crops.

Next to the overlook is the Turkish Cappadocia Naturel Viagra Market. No, I did not buy anything there before we headed back to our hotel.

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The Cave Cities of Cappadocia Were Carved by Hand

“Cappadocia” is not a town or a county or a state. It is an old name for an area of central Turkey, an area that has an unique landscape. We just returned from a few, fantastic, information-packed days there.

We stayed in Ürgüp, a small town about an hour from the city of Kayseri that is in Cappadocia and very close to all the major tourist sites. There is a small museum in the town (next to the Tourist Information center in a park) that contains items found in the area. The collection is small. Some might easily call it insignificant. I thought it provided a good idea of the history of the area since it contains everything from marine fossils to Greek pottery, to Roman coins, to Ottoman clothing and weaponry. Entrance is free.

The Hittites were the first known settlers in the area. They were also the first to start carving the cave dwellings. Persians came later and gave the area the name for which it is known today, which means “land of beautiful horses.”

During the Roman Era, early Christians came to the area and began carving out much larger and more elaborate cities, building churches into the hillsides. The area proved to be an excellent place to hide from persecution. Once Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, the people came out of hiding. But they still lived in the caves. The caves remained an excellent place to live. They were cool in the hot dry summers and warm in the cold winters.

How were the people able to carve such dwellings? It goes back to the area’s particular geology.

Erciyes (“ehr-jee-yes”), the now dormant volcano that dominates the landscape near Kayseri, once spewed ash repeatedly over the course of millions of years. This gave the land very fertile soil. It also made it possible to make the underground cities. People would dig into the hillsides and removed the soft stone. Once exposed to air the stone hardened.

The work was done by hand by the people in the community, first using obsidian and then, later, metal tools. It’s staggering the amount of time it must have taken to carve out cities large enough for thousands of people to live in.

People were still living in some of the caves up until the 1950’s when the government forced them out. The caves had been slowly collapsing over time and were less safe to live in.

I’ll have more about some of the individual sites we visited in the coming days. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos.

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Harry Potter and the Sultan’s Hamam, and Other Things Seen In Istanbul

During my wanderings around Istanbul, I’ve taken pictures of things that don’t necessarily fit neatly into a day’s adventure. But they are united in their quirkiness. So here are a few of them.

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Pissy is Closed – I don’t know what they sold. Clothes? Toilets? Attitude? Pints of beer?

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Fast Like Bulls – Pizza Bull is a local pizza chain. We tried it one night. It was okay. They sell pizzas named after cities in the U.S: Los Angles, Chicago, Orlando, New York, Seattle, etc. For some reason the Houston pizza is vegetarian.

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Burger King Delivers – BK will deliver to your home here in Istanbul via scooter.

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“Sex O’Clock” – It’s always time to “play” on this clock.

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Wolverine Kebabs – Here Wolverine puts his special talons to a more practical use.

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Harry Potter and the Sultan’s Hamam – Why shouldn’t Harry Potter have an adventure in Istanbul?

Gold Powder and the Galata Tower

Sunday we met a new friend near the Galata Tower. He’s here in Istanbul for a conference. My wife and our friend Banu offered to meet him because we share a mutual friend from our time together at USC.

Before he left the U.S., Viet asked my wife if there was anything he could bring us. My wife said, “pancake mix.”

I have yet to be able to find pancake mix here in Istanbul. I spent an entire morning walking around Nişantaşı trying to find the place that supposedly sells American and Western European products, specifically pancake mix and Mrs. Butterworths or Aunt Jemima syrup. I never did find it. But one of the local supermarkets in our neighborhood sells Vermont Maple syrup for the price of 42 lira (depending on the current exchange rate, about $21 – $22 for a 250 gram bottle), which I paid without hesitation.

Meanwhile, there are places selling waffles on the street and at many Metro stations. But why no waffle mix in the stores?

Viet was kind enough to bring us two boxes of Mrs. Butterworth’s pancake mix, aka “Gold Powder.” We treated him to lunch (at a good restaurant recommended by Banu) and a trip up to the top of Galata Tower.

But Viet is far more than just the provider of our gold powder. He’s an artist, poet, and scholar. Check out his website.

During lunch, Viet’s friend Duyen, an artist who lives in Istanbul, used pieces of napkin to make several pieces of origami for my daughter Meredith.

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Meredith is very shy. Though she didn’t thank Duyen (I and my wife did), she did make eye contact, which for Meredith is often the most you’re going to get as someone she has just met. Afterwards, Duyen made this neat package to hold the small pieces so they could be carried home.

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The Galata Tower was originally built around 507 A.D., and has served as a fire lookout tower, an observatory, and a place for Christian prisoners. It has suffered through a handful of fires, effectively gutting the interior. The tower now serves as a great place from which to view Istanbul. There is also an over-priced restaurant at the top.

Here’s how the tower looks in Istanbul from the western side of the Golden Horn.

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Here’s a how it looks up close.

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Here’s how it looks when you’re waiting in line.

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I’m betting an experienced rock climber would have no problem scaling the tower. I’d pay to see that.

The elevator ride to the top of the tower is quick and smooth. You barely realize you’re moving.

It was Sunday, so it was crowded on the outside platform.

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It also didn’t help that these Turks were creating a traffic jam by stopping to write graffiti on the tower itself.

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Banu told these assholes that they were damaging the tower and their own history. They told her that other people have done it so what’s the big deal. Teh Stupid is everywhere.

Here is what we saw from the top of the tower.

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Meredith made it all the way around the top with me and Banu. Henry was out there for a short while before my wife Stephanie took him inside and then out of the tower. As I’ve said before, he’s not a fan of heights. When we met them afterwards in the square, he was happily playing Minecraft on my wife’s iPad Mini.

The following morning, my wife mixed some of the gold powder with water and we had our first pancakes since leaving the U.S. The kids left for school in by far the happiest morning mood they’ve had since we arrived in Istanbul.