Heybeliada – Jam-Packed Ferry to a Beautiful Island

Heybeliada is one of the Princes Islands in the Marmara Sea just off the coast from Istanbul. It’s small, pretty, quiet, and once there you can take a horse-led carriage ride. The carriage ride is a great leisurely way to see the island. Which we did when we visited the island this past Sunday.

I was cranky that morning because we were running very late. We needed to catch the 9:30am ferry. We didn’t get out the door of our apartment until a little before 9:00am. We walked to the Metro and waited for a train. Once on the train we’d have to change to the funicular at Taksim and then get on the ferry at Kabatas. I was being pessimistic and grumbling that we wouldn’t make the ferry in time. I hate having to rush. Stephanie didn’t think it would be a big deal if we didn’t make it, reminding me that I could always go by myself during the week.

We did make it, but not without running up the steps and into the terminal and onto the ferry…to find a ferry already well-above capacity. Steph and Meredith snagged a seat while Henry and I sat on some stairs.

I was also a little hungry at that point. I hate the world when I’m hungry. The kids and I all got snacks and something to drink and after a bit I was feeling better.

The ferry stopped at Kadikoy, where few got off but many people got on, including a woman and her little dog. She sat behind us. The dog was cute and quiet.

We arrived at Heybeliada about 50 minutes later. It was a little after 11am and the restaurant we wanted to eat at was not yet serving lunch. So we got the kids some more snacks to tide them over before riding in a horse-drawn carriage. It’s a small island. The only vehicles we saw were fire engines and garbage trucks.

As I said, the carriage is a great way to see the island. The four of us enjoyed it.

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After the carriage ride we went back to the restaurant Heymola where the kids ate french fires (Meredith) and pasta (Henry), and Stephanie and I ate a lot of yummy seafood, from calamari to octopus to sea bass to fish kokorech.

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Fully sated, we decided to walk back up the hill to where there were some trails in a small forest. As we were walking up the hill Stephanie asked, “Are you having a good time?” But she said it in a way that implied, “See! I told you so.”

“Yes, I am.” I said. “I’m in a better mood now.”

“You need to remember that things often do get better.”

“I know.”

“I do these things because they’re fun. Not because you’re fun to be with,” said my wife.

Ouch!

We had a nice walk, though Meredith wanted to be carried and asked to stop and rest at various points. This did make it easier to stop and snap pictures.

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Once we told Meredith we were going to turn around and go back into town to get ice cream, she turned and ran, leading the way back.

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We all ate ice cream by the ferry port. The kids opted for popsicles. Stephanie and I went for the dondurma (Turkish ice cream) from a street vendor. Unfortunately, we should have asked the price beforehand. The total for two ice cream cones was 30 lira ($14), the most expensive ice cream I have ever eaten. It was good, but not worth the price.

We thought (or at least, I thought) leaving the island would be easy. We would just take a different ferry, one we found that went directly to the port at Kabatas. So we went to that port. Ferries would arrive there and no one would tell you where it was going. You had to make your way through the crowd and ask one of the attendants.

The first one went to Bostanci which we only found out after waiting in the jam-packed crowd and pushing our way to the front to ask the attendant. That ferry left and another one arrived. He said it was Kabatas. We used our IstanbulKart to go through the turnstyle.

There’s a sign that says you can’t use your Akbil. I had no idea what that was and I’ve been in this city for 9 months. Turns out, that refers to the IstanbulKart, aka our transit card. The same card I use to ride the Metro, the Bus, and the ferries. But not this ferry for some reason. So we each lost three-and-a-half liras trying to use our transit card.

Then my wife went to the ticket window to buy tickets. And the woman at the ticket window said there were no more tickets. So we couldn’t get on that ferry.

After cursing not-quite-under my breath, I marched down to the ferry terminal from where we had originally arrived and looked at the schedule. The next ferry to take us back would be at 5:15pm. I looked at my phone: 4:15pm. We sat on a bench until an anouncement was made that a ferry was arriving. Then we joined the jumbled mass of people waiting on the pier. We shoved our way onto the over-crowded ferry. The ferry was already over-flowing with people returning form Buyukada (literally “Big Island”). My wife and I stood while the kids sat on the floor. It was hot, too.

Despite my grumbling and frustration, it was worth the trip to that pretty island. In the warmer months people spend the day there or on Buyukada on the beaches swimming in the Marmara Sea. I don’t think we’ll have to time to return there before we leave in three weeks. But if we ever return to Istanbul in the summer months, we’ll definitely spend a day at one of the islands again.

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“Pissing Against the Moon” – Stephen Chambers at the Pera Museum

Yesterday I shared photos from my vista to the Pera Museum to see the Warhol exhibition. One of the other artists whose work was on display was Stephen Chambers. This enjoyable exhibition provided a survey of over two decades worth of the artist’s work.

One wall was dedicated to showing his large work The Big Country. (Yes, Gen-Xer that I am, I was promptly afflicted with the ear worm from that 80’s band.)

The Big Country is a collection of inter-linking panels with little stories depicted in one panel or across several panels.

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It’s inspired by the Gregory Peck-starring movie of the same name from 1958. I’ve never seen the movie.

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Several other works were exhibited including, Harvest (of heads?!)

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Scissors. You won’t be needing those wings now, will you…

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My favorite was The Indestructible Tree.

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Among the works were a few commissioned specifically for this exhibition. Each piece was inspired by a different part from the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Twelve Proverbs.

“To play dice at the wrong time, to keep drinking when he is drunk, impoverishes man’s name and makes him stink.”

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“In one hand I carry fire, in the other water. With chatterboxes and gossips I keep my mouth shut.”

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“No matter what I pursue I never reach it, I always piss against the moon.”

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The last is funny but also for me evokes the myth of Sisyphus and P.B. Shelley’s Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats.

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,

       He hath awaken’d from the dream of life;
       ‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
       With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
       And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
       Invulnerable nothings. We decay
       Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
       Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

Specifically the “unprofitable strife” and “cold hopes” bits. Yet the figure of the dog and the light colors bring a smile to my face as I contemplate those bleak words.

Video Games and Ice Cream

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People have often remarked to my wife and me how well our kids do at traveling. I would like to think it’s because we’ve instilled in them the importance of being respectful, patient, kind, curious, and all that. But the fact is, kids (especially small kids like ours) don’t care even a tiny bit about history or culture.

Sure, they get to climb on old ruins like they did in Ephesus and Miletus, and climb down into an underground city in Cappadoccia. But for the most part, telling them that something is 1500 or 2000 years old briefly gets their attention and then it’s on to something else.

Still, the question is: how do we keep our kids from melting down and freaking out when we’re on a tour?

Bribery. Usually taking the forms of video games and ice cream.

There’s all kinds of parenting advice that appears to have been designed for children that were created under some impossibly ideal lab-like conditions where they do what they’re told and better behavior is merely a short timeout away. Or that getting them to try new foods is as simple as gentle prodding or the tried and true take-it-or-leave-it method.

These are not our kids.

Our kids are picky eaters. So picky that they skip lunch three or four times a week at their school; days when plain pasta (or rice in the case of my daughter) is not on the menu. They’re not allowed to bring their own lunch. Their only choice is what’s on the menu. Can you say “stubborn?” So when they arrive at home here around 4:30pm they’re tired and famished.

In Trabzon we managed to keep them alive on french fries, plain pasta, the small pancakes at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, ice cream, sour cherry juice, and American Children’s vitamins. Children’s vitamins in Turkey come in the form of syrup, which our kids will not drink. Gummies or Flintstone-style are not available here. We’ve had to buy vitamins through drugstore.com, ship them to family, who then bring them when they visit. We also bring along snacks on the trips: peanuts, dried mango, and almonds.

We recognize that if we can’t get the kids to appreciate even a sliver of what is important about something we’re seeing, they’re going to be bored. You can allow them to be bored for only so long before they take it out on you. Long bus rides from stop to stop, listening to a tour guide talk, is not an ideal way for a child to spend a day. So Henry plays his Nintendo 3DS and Meredith plays Minecraft or Where’s My Perry? on my wife’s iPad.

And thanks to these ever present ALGIDA ice cream bins in Turkey, we know that for the price of a few lira we can keep the kids happy for the time being. FYI, “mutluluğu paylaş” translates roughly as “Share your happiness.”

Alexander the Great’s Hovel, and Other Ancient Lessons

My wife beat me to the punch, so to speak, on our most recent trip. Read on!

A Year Without Bacon: Our Expat Life in Turkey

Todays’ post continues with our trip to the Greek and Roman ruins we saw during our recent trip to the Aegean coast.

Near the top of a hillside, about an hour east of present-day Kuşadası, sat the city of Priene. It was never a large city, probably about 4,000-5,000 people and lacked the political clout that Ephesus and Miletus held. But it was home of the impressive Temple of Athena, funded by Alexander the Great.

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Alexander the Great even spent some time in Priene, in order to keep an eye on Miletus. Apparently those folks were a bunch of rabble-rousing upstarts. I expected Alexander’s home to be, well, great. But it was just a regular house like all the other regular folks. Here is what is left of it.

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Priene also had a small amphitheater. The people of Priene were big into art and philosophy, so there amphitheater hosted plays…

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In Memory of Charlie Waller

My wife wrote a wonderful post about a dear friend of our daughter Meredith’s and his remarkable family. Five-year-old Charlie died yesterday. We’ve known the Wallers for several years and feel lucky to call them our friends.

A Year Without Bacon: Our Expat Life in Turkey

I have been working on this post in my head since before we left Michigan. Since that afternoon in August when we had lunch with our friends John and Abby Waller, and their children Esther and Charlie. I knew that afternoon that I probably would not get to see Charlie again.

Back in April 2011, Charlie Waller was diagnosed with a particularly devastating form of brain cancer, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. It is a type of tumor that grows like grains of sand on a person’s brain stem. It is inoperable, has practically no effective treatments, and affects primarily children. Abby and John were told that without treatment, Charlie would die within a couple weeks. With treatment, he had maybe nine months. At the time Charlie was not even three years old.

Over the past two and half harrowing and joy-filled years, Charlie and his family have beaten…

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At the End of a “Çıkmaz Sokak”

The flight to Munich left an hour later than scheduled on Monday night because we had to wait for people whose flights were late and were connecting to our 6:00pm flight.

It’s a good thing we ate dinner at Tortas Frontera before getting on the plane. I saved the other half of my large chipotle chicken sandwich for when we were finally in the air. Other than that delay, there was little drama. In Munich, we had Lufthansa change our seating assignments because initially they had all four of us sitting separately in different rows. The kids slept on the first leg of the trip and then again for a bit on the flight from Munich to Istanbul.

This is what all of our stuff looked like when we arrived at Istanbul airport.

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I don’t know how you pack for 10 months living overseas for two adults and two children.

On our trip into the city we did not get taken by any cab drivers. Though we did hire a larger taxi so that we could fit all four of us and our luggage for a grand total of 60 lira, which is the equivalent of about $30.

Stephanie had printed out the address to the place we are staying at temporarily. The apartment we’re renting for our stay won’t be available until the 8th of September. So a friend of our Landlord-to-Be (LTB) is letting us stay at a place she owns for the two weeks until the other, larger place is ready.

The cab driver was nice and we conversed a bit in broken English and broken Turkish about our reasons for coming to Turkey. We arrived with all of our luggage near our apartment.

The apartment is near Taksim Square (yes, the one you might have seen on the news), off the long pedestrian shopping street Istiklal, tucked into the very end of a cul-de-sac, called a “Çıkmaz Sokak.” The cab driver couldn’t drive down the short road because of all the tables and chairs set out on the street filled with people, who were eating and drinking and talking. Even if the street was clear he would only have been able to drive down and then back up. I don’t think there is enough room for even a Smart car to turn around.

We pulled our luggage down to the end of the cul-de-sac to the apartment building. We were 10 minutes early and our LTB and her friend were not yet there.

Two men who had been been sitting at a table nearby walked over and offered to help us. It was obvious that we were foreigners. We explained we were renting an apartment in the building. Stephanie pulled out our LTB’s cell phone number and one of the men used his phone to call her to let her know we were waiting there for her.

We thanked the men profusely.

Then we got to witness a sample of Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s pettiness. We were settling in to wait our LTB and her friend when people at the tables started to get up and scramble about. We heard cries of “police” repeatedly. Waiters and customers began moving chairs and tables off this dead-end street and into the restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Non-uniformed men walked briskly down the street holding up their camera phones to take pictures and video of the offending restaurant, cafe, and bar owners who had tables on chairs out on the street. They were followed by members of the police who grabbed the chairs and tables not yet brought inside and confiscated them. I’ve never seen police just carry away a chair or table.

The proprietors of the eateries were not happy and they let the police know it. There was a lot of shouting and hand-waving.

Several people we talked to explained that this kind of thing had been happening recently under Erdogan. That the store owners hadn’t paid their bribes to the local police.

(As I’m typing this, tired, sweaty, and jet-lagged after 9 at night, but still only after 2pm “my time,” there are now more tables and chairs out on the street and very few are empty.)

Our LTB’s friend arrived shortly afterward, and the two men who’d helped us spoke to her and they all shook their heads about what the police had done. Our LTB arrived after her friend let us in and took us up to the apartment. It’s on what we would call the second floor. So we lugged our luggage up a wide circular flight of stairs.

The apartment was dusty. She recommended a place across the street from the apartment for dinner, which we took.

The Turkish-style salad and mushroom pizza were excellent. This was my first taste of Ayran. I can’t say that I liked it. Boy, is it salty. It was not the refreshing drink I was looking for after a long day of traveling and landing in a hot city. I might give it a try another time.

Meredith was in a recalcitrant mood. She refused to put on her shoes before left for the restaurant, only doing so after we told her we were going to leave her at the apartment. Then she refused to sit at the table with us.

This is her trying to hide under the chair.

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Then Meredith refused to drink or eat anything. A few of the waiters tried to cheer her up. One managed to gently pick her up and place her on the chair and he even gave her a piece of candy, which she tried and did not like.

“I want to go home,” said Meredith, with her knees pulled up to her face. “Can we go home after tomorrow?”

We explained that no, we can’t do that, even though we miss home, too. After consoling her a bit more, she said she didn’t want to stay “more than five months” and then asked for some red cherry juice and she drank that.

When we returned to the apartment we took out some of the framed photos I had packed and set them on shelves around the place, Stephanie complimented me for bringing the photos. Meredith wanted the one where Henry was holding her when she was a baby.

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I unpacked it from its thick wrapping of clothing. Meredith took it and put it in the room she and Henry will be sharing temporarily.

Stir Crazy in Shanghai

Entertaining sick kids is hard. It’s even harder when you’re in a Shanghai hotel that doesn’t have a single English language station and you only brought a handful of DVDs for the portable DVD player and several small toys. The kids have found a Chinese TV show that we found out is called The Monkey King. They can’t understand the words but they can understand the action, and the moods thanks to the exaggerated-acting.

(There is one non-Chinese station. It’s Spanish. From Cuba. The last two Communist powers are sticking together in Broadcast Solidarity.)

First Henry caught some kind of virus and he ran a fever for a few days. When he was feeling better, on Tuesday, we took a short trip down to the Bund. As always it was hot and the kids wanted to be in some shade after the walk from the Nanjing Dong Lu subway stop to the Bund. Though they were excited for a view of the Oriental Pearl Tower. They REALLY like the Pearl Tower, especially at night when it lights up and they can see it from our hotel room.

Chinese Paparazzi Count: 11

We sat under some trees and they snacked on Oreo cookies and drank some water. It was then that a large group of Chinese tourists, led by a microphone headset-wearing guide who was talking nonstop, waddled up. The Chinese tourists immediately began chattering and taking pictures of Henry and Meredith.

“Come, look! It’s not often you get to see white children out in public here in China! Here on the Bund, many white tourists with their white children like to walk and look at the magnificent skyline on both sides of the river. You can take some pictures and then we’ll move on.”

I told the kids to help me keep track of how many people took their picture because I was going to include it in the blog. The kids tolerated the attention pretty well. They were the only white children there. When they were done with their snack we walked up the steps to the promenade along the river to take in the view and take some pictures.

Before we had left for the Bund I had discovered that the Auto-focus feature on the lens of our Canon camera had stopped working. #$*&^@!

I took about a dozen pictures of the view from up, down, and across the Huangpu river, using the Manual Focus. As someone who is not a professional photographer and who is not adept at focusing a camera, the results were a collection of pictures slightly sharper than a Monet canvas but with none of the artistry of a Monet. One of the few pictures to come out halfway decent was this one:

Which made this short excursion worth it.

The next morning, Meredith woke up with a fever, saying she felt “wobbly.” This kept us in the hotel room all day yesterday. The kids watched almost all the movies we brought with us on the DVD player. I kept busy updated the blog, researching electronics stores in order to buy a replacement lens, and learning some more Chinese characters. For the latter, I’ve decided to focus on things that are on restaurant menus. I don’t have any illusions about becoming fluent in Mandarin or in reading the entire collection of Chinese characters. Our Chinese friends told us they spend six+ years learning the characters in school. Reading a menu can come in handy on a daily basis, since we have to eat out for almost all of our meals.

Last night Meredith woke us up at about 3am, crying. Her fever had come back in the night and she was very uncomfortable. We gave her some ibuprofen and soothed her back to sleep. This morning she said she still felt “wobbly.” So it’s another day inside.

We’re all a bit bored, confined to the hotel room for yet another day while my wife teaches her classes. We’re frustrated, too. Out our windows we can see this giant city full of so many things to see and do, and yet we can’t see or do any of them.

But we’re hoping this cold/virus follows the same pattern as Henry’s: two days of fever followed by one day of tiredness and then gone. I’m glad we’re here for an extended stay instead of say a one week visit. Otherwise, we really would be missing out. We’re lucky; we still have plenty of time to explore.