31 December 2006

Easy when you know the language

We expected that the hotel would provide shampoo, toothpaste, soap - don't they all do that nowadays? - so we didn't pack any. As a result we were wandering around Selcuk on our first afternoon there looking for a supermarket so we could buy what we needed. The man in the Tourist Information office told us where there was a Tansaş store - a big supermarket that seems common in country towns.

But try as we might we couldn't find it. We thought we had found the right building, but it seemed to be just restaurants. We wandered off through the streets and found an electrical store - we wanted to buy an electrical power board anyway, so we dropped in. The proprietor didn't speak any English, but we managed the transaction with our few stuttering phrases in Turkish.

Then I scrambled together a few more words and asked him where the Tansas store was. He took us to the window and pointed down the road.

As we left the store Peter was chuckling about the fact the man had told us how easy it would be to find - "elementary" in fact. He was saying something about "Elementary, my dear Watson ..."

Of course, he had forgotten that "elli" means "fifty", it was about fifty metres to the supermarket ...

29 December 2006

Saint Jean's final resting place

When we went on the bus to Tire (Tee-Ray) I mentioned to Peter that I had severe doubts about the wisdom of the trip - it was longer than we expected and it was beginnng to feel like the rest of my life - but he assured me that no only would we have a good time, but that he would remind me of this many times in the future.

And so it was when we thought about visiting the ruins of St John's Basilica, just up the hill from the hotel, he just said, "Remember Tire"!

And so we went, past the Aqueduct and up the hill. We wanted to see the castle, but we were told it has been closed for five years, and so we paid our 5 lira went into St Jean's / John's.

We were surprised at how big the site was, but according to the drawings it had been quite grand in its day. Just like the Ephesus ruins, it was interesting walking around trying to imagine what it was like to be there.

There are arches and pillars and walls and floors, a huge variety. Among the ruins I found a little friend:

It isn't only Istanbul which is overrun with cats! This kitten was very affectionate, rubbing up against my legs and purring loudly - the Istanbul cats are generally more aloof while constantly on the alert in the hope of an extra feed.

It followed me around for a while, apparently convinced that I would eventually feed it - of maybe it just loved me. I went into the area of what is obviously a baptistry. One of the local farmers found me there, assured me it was in fact a Turkish bath, and tried to sell me some "ancient coins".

The kitten decided to check it out, and even though it was iced over managed to find a tiny corner to lap a drink.
From the top of the hill we had a comanding view of the Isa Bey Mosque, and the Temple of Artemis, but we couldn't quite see the Ephesus ruins.

On the other side of the hill we could look out right over the town of Selcuk. Yes, Peter was right, it was worth visiting.

Temple to a Milky Goddess

Considering how well preserved the ruins at Ephesus are, we were a little surprised when we had difficulty even finding the Temple of Artemis - reputed to have once been one of the seven wonders of the world.

There were some statues of Artemis in the Ephesus Museum, but we were not allowed to photograph them. However in the hotel we found a picture on the wall.

In the museum we did manage to snap a little picture of the model of what the temple used to look like.

All those pillars? There is only one left standing - and even that one looks like someone has recently plonked it there piece by piece.

A large part of the temple area is under water even in these dry winter months.

Someone has added some fountains to make this into a pleasant picnic spot for the tourists when the weather is fine. A local farmer lets his ducks swim there - although they seemed a little confused when they found it had frozen over.

Old Coins

In these lean winter months especially some of the local farmers resort to the old favourite - selling ancient coins to the tourists. We have heard that a home-made coin can be made "ancient" by allowing it to pass through the guts of a sheep - but we don't know if that's true.
Nevertheless we were beset at every point by friendly locals offering us a grubby handful of coins for 20 lira, or 10? maybe 5?

32 Years of Wedded Bliss

Its our 32nd Wedding Anniversary. Here we are at the ruins of the Temple of Artemis.

Peter had mentioned in an email to the hotel that this was our special day, and they surprised us with a tiny bottle of bubbly just before dinner.

28 December 2006

Village Visit

Everyone says you should go out and see Sirince when you stay at Selcuk, though they can't really say why, other than they make really nice fruit wines out there - but the wines are on sale in Selcuk anyway.

We had plenty of time, so we went and climbed on the bus to Sirince.

It was one o'clock in the afternoon, and the bus driver seemed preoccupied with a couple of plastic bags and lunch boxes on the seat beside him. A few minutes down the road, still in Selcuk, he stopped in the middle of a quiet street to hand as a boy came out from a small cafe and handed him a wrapped meal and collected some empty dishes.

We continued up into the nearby hills, the road was steep and we crawled around several hairpin bends as the bus ground its way higher among orchards, vineyards and fields of olive trees ... and still the driver was fiddling with something on the seat beside him. It was making me quite nervous, I desperately wanted him to watch the road, no matter how many times he had been up here.

We rounded yet another corner and the bus got even slower as a man trotted out onto the road, received his lunch through the bus window without the bus stopping, and ran back to his farm vehicle.

Charming little village, Sirince, very quaint. A bit sad this time of year with everyone sitting around desperately waiting for some tourists to come through.

But they are obviously not totally reliant on tourism. There were farmers on their tractors and people going about their regular business. They probably think tourists are very strange the way we go around taking photos of all the ordinary things.

And did those feet in ancient times ...

The reason why all of the tourists come to visit this area is to see the ruins at Ephesus, to walk the exact same streets where people like the Apostle Paul, and John the disciple of Jesus walked in their day.

It was a brilliantly clear but freezing cold day when we went out to the ruins of Ephesus, about 3 kilometres out of Selcuk. Rather than employ one of the many eager guides, we rented an audio guide - a little gizmo that speaks the appropriate information when you press the right buttons and shuts up when you want it to.

So I walked the streets of Ephesus, listening to my audio guide, and trying to imagine what it was like to live in this place thousands of years ago.

This is a small amphitheatre near the higher end of Ephesus, built to seat a few thousand people. But the theatre we were keen to see was the one at the lower end of town the huge one, where "The Ephesian Riot" mentioned in the New Testament took place.

We sat there in this huge theatre that seated over 100 000, and imagined all those people shouting and shouting "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians" ... Later we had a look at what remains of the temple of Artemis, and in the museum we saw statues of their goddess Artemis - what a strange one she was!

There were a great many very impressive bits and pieces to look at and wander around. One of the most specatacular sights is this facade of the building that was the library.

We walked through Hadrian's Gate, and were surprised to realise the connection with Hadrian's Wall in the north of England.

We came to a very large section under cover, still being worked on but open to the public for an extra fee of 10 lira. We decided to give it a go.

Inside we found a remarkable display of a number of ancient hillside residences.

We walked through the display on carefully constructed steel and glass walkways that enabled us to have a look at everything without causing damage to anything. Of course being there in the 'low' season was probably much more pleasant than it would be when this place is swarming with astonished tourists.

These ancient homes were remarkable firstly because they have been so well preserved over the centuries. And secondly because of the opulent lifestyle of the people who must have lived in these huge homes.

We came to the Agora, and had a think about agora phobia ... here there were puddles of water that were frozen over, there was a keen wind blowing and the sprinkling of tourists were huddling in corners and pulling their jacket hoods over their eyes and ears despite their guides prattling on.

Finally we came to the end of the village road, and there were all the tourist stalls waiting for us ...

And finally there was the one little room we were all looking for - although we had to pay to use it.

"Only 50 cent is enough to feel the magic atmosphere."

We had caught a taxi from the hotel to the top end of Ephesus, and it cost us 10 lira. Now there was a taxi at the gate, and we asked what his price was - he wanted 20 lira, so we walked away, and someone else climbed in. We hung around for a few minutes, and soon saw the same taxi return, followed by a second one. We thought we would try our luck with the second one, but Mr Nasty in the first taxi drove his car at us, trying to block our way and stop us from getting in. Still, we are the ones with the money and we made our choice, only paying 10 lira for our ride. The taxi driver, Tunc, was such a nice chap, with good English skills, that we booked him to return us to the airport on Friday when we returned to Istanbul.
(If you are going to Selcuk and want a reliable taxi driver, leave a comment and we'll give you his number ...)

27 December 2006

A tiring day

There was a notice on the hotel notice board about Tuesday market day at Tire. We mentioned to the man at the hotel that we were thinking of going, and although he spoke good English he gave us a puzzled look.

So we wandered into town and found the bus station and looked for a bus going there. A man approached us to ask where we wanted to go, and we got the same blank look when we said "Tire". Then suddenly it twigged with us. Duh. "We want to go to the market at Tee-ray!" we finally said and light dawned and he pointed to a waiting mini-bus.

The road from Izmir to Selcuk is wide and straight, the journey only takes an hour or so, so we thought that the 40 km to Tire would take maybe half an hour ... but of course the road wound its way through the country towns and villages. I was beginning to wonder if we had made a good choice in getting onto that bus.

When we finally arrived in Tire and saw the market spreading through most of the streets in the centre of town, I was ready to enjoy myself.

The country women nearly all wear the big baggy colourful trousers, with jumpers and cardigans tucked in and headscarfs securely tied. Even the men ride their tractors with a headscarf tied around their heads (in a manly style).

Encouraged by the presence of so many large women, I felt hopeful of finding a coat that would fit me.

My creepy coat

I found a black coat which seemed to be just what I needed. It was made of a furry material - looking like suede on the outside and furry on the inside - and went down to my knees, and it fit me, just what I wanted. The man wanted 85 lira for it, but I persuaded him to take 65 lira - slipped the coat on and wore it around the market. (You can see me in the picture.)

I soon discovered my new coat has its own little foible. The inside fur is laid upwards, and so my shirt under the coat kept riding up but wouldn't readily slide down again. Very soon my shirt was all wadded up under my arms, even the sleeves pulled themselves up to my armpits.

We spent a couple of happy hours wandering around the Tee-ray market, then dropped into the nearby mosque to use their facilities, and headed back to Selcuk on the mini-bus.

26 December 2006

Sights of Selcuk

As soon as we had settled in at our hotel, we went out to explore the town of Selcuk - I think it has a population of about 25 000 if I remember rightly, just a small town.

Corba lunch

Just down the street a little we found a little family restaurant where we could get some corba (soup) - our favourite lunch.


A little further along we saw some of the ancient Aqueduct constructions.

These seemed quite remarkable to us, but to the local people they would be no more than a mild annoyance.

There seemed to be no explanation for this part of the structure. In the centre of the town where there is a continuation of the aqueduct they have built the town square around it.

The Old Mosque

A little further down we came across the Isa Bey mosque - another ancient building - but we are disinclined to wander through endless mosques, no matter how old they are.

Even this time of year there was a tourist bus bringing sightseers here. And so, of course, all the little tourist stores were nearby to catch the trade. I decided to drop in, and I actually bought a couple of pretty scarfs - and at a better price than our colleagues had done in Istanbul.

Bath Time?

Apparently this fascinating-looking structure is an ancient Turkish bath, or Hamam. The guide map said its always open, but it didn't seem to be. We live in Hamam Sokak (Street) in Istanbul, but still neither of us have ever seen a Hamam, or Turkish bath. So we have no idea how this thing would have worked. We saw (from the outside) a similar up-to-date working (well, smoke coming from chimney) building like this in the town centre ... But, I dunno?


So then it was time for dinner in the hotel. Our table was next to this fish-pond with fountain, but they only had the fountain working once while we were there.

25 December 2006

Getting away for Christmas

We hadn't really given much thought to the fact that it was Christmas Day - it hardly seems relevant here - other than a longing (like every day) to be with our kids and grandkids.

We were up bright and early, and downstairs on the cold street waiting for Ali's taxi-driver friend to pick us up and take us to the airport for the flight to Izmir. After half-an-hour we got tired of that, and wandered down to the main street of Bakirkoy where we found a taxi without any problem.

Keeping everyone safe

In Turkey there are security checks everywhere - you can't get into a shopping centre without one - so you would expect it to be the same at the airport. Except that here they must tune the machine to pick up the tiniest piece of metal or whatever. We joined the queue of people entering the airport, and like everyone were asked to remove our coats - and still the buzzer went off and we had to be checked with the wand.

After we had checked in we found we had to go through yet another security check, and this one seemed even tighter. No one "passed", everyone had to walk through at least twice and take off coats, belts, shoes etc ... as well as open and switch on laptops.

With all our coats back on and carry-on baggage repacked, we relaxed in the lounge to the background music of beeps and bells as other would-be passengers came through security.

Hotel Kalehan

We had arranged for a car to pick us up from Izmir airport, but after a long cold wait and no sign of anyone we tried unsuccessfully to call the hotel, and finally we caught a taxi for less than the hotel was charging us.

The hotel is only "three star"' - like most hotels in Selcuk - but charming enough. The foyer and lounge area are full of all sorts of interesting old stuff, like these old keys and locks.

We had a room on the third floor - they had promised us a "big bed", but when we got there it was really only two single beds pushed together. There was a tour group in the hotel, but when they left the following morning we complained about our room and were moved to a room with a proper big bed.

22 December 2006

Corridor of death

Well, not really ... but it felt a bit like it.

"Don't worry," said Shannon (who had been there before and knew what it was like), looking at our tired faces. "Your souls will eventually come back. You will feel better ..."
She was right. We went to our favourite restaurant and filled our cold, tired bellies with delicious food ... and already memories of four soul-destroying hours in the visa office are fading.

How it all starts

The day started early - well 8.30am, except of course Ali slept in and so the first part of the waitıng was simply waiting for Ali ...

The first requirement for a residence permit here is evidence of a certain amount of American dollars in a bank account. So we had to take a heap of money to the money exchange and get it changed. And then take the American dollars to the bank and open an account. Then we took our new bank books back to our office and photocopied them to prove the money was there.
That was relatively easy and painless - it was early in the day and the bank wasn't clogged with people yet.

Oh, and then we remembered that we needed passport photos, so we dropped into a little photo-shop, and had them in our hot little hands in no time at all.

Getting there

The visa office is right across town, so we caught a little bus to the railway station, and then we rode the metro for 10 stops ... it was good to see the sights from the train.

Umbrella Office

The next stage was a complete surprise to us.

On this windy, rainy day we had to visit this little "office" on the sidewalk.

There was a little man sitting there using a typwriter. Yes, a typewriter ... I didn't think you could even buy those nowadays ... with carbon paper. You hand him your passport and for 15 lira he will type your name into an application form and a "petition" for residency.

Ali was with us to help translate the two questions we had to answer: "What is your mother's name?" "What is your father's name?" The only problem was these names were totally foreign to him and he made a few mistakes typing them with his two fingers. That was okay, he had a mate there with a bottle of white-out to fix the mistakes. White-out Man managed to drop Peter's passport on the muddy ground, and then transferred mud to Peter's form, but he managed to wipe it off with his fingers ...

Into the Big Building

At this point Ali left us. He pointed down the road to a building entrance guarded by police with machine guns. The instructions were simple:

Go through there, hand your passport over the counter and then get it back.
Go across a courtyard and into that other big building - its easy, you can't go wrong.
Go up to the second floor.
Get a number, and wait until your number comes up.
Just do what they tell you.

Well, it sounded simple enough - although the last one sounded a little daunting as it would likely all be in Turkish.

So in we went. Through the security check - we're used to that, it happens everywhere, but for some reason the police officer wanted to have a rummage through my handbag ... maybe she was jealous of my grubby little Chinese handbag. We handed over our passports and got them back. And so we went out into the courtyard.

There were several doors on the other side, none of them that obvious. We stood in the rain and muttered about Ali and his directions. Then we saw some people heading into the left-hand door with a big 'A' above it, and decided to follow them.

Inside we saw a lift, and thought we could go in and press '2' to get to the second floor - after all "second floor" means different things in different countries, depending on whether we were already on the "ground" floor or the "first" floor. So we crammed ourselves into the lift. From where I was stuck, it looked like there were about 20 people in there - until I recognised one of the "other" people as me, and realised it was a tiny lift with a big mirror. I couldn't see which floor we were on, but after a few minutes and several stops we got out again. We offered our papers at a reception desk, and were directed to the stairs - we had to go down a floor.

Getting a number

We pushed our way along a crowded corridor, turned left, left again, left again .... and of course we were back to where we started, but no number. I noticed a sign with the word "numarasi" (it sounds something like 'number') and an arrow, so we set off again. Then there was another sign, in English - Wow! - "Follow the arrow to get a number". Around we went again - still no number machine. So we decided to go back the other way, maybe we missed something, maybe we could find someone to ask. Finally I noticed a police officer sitting on a stool in the dark corner and the end of the first corridor where the arrows were. She looked bored and tired - but maybe she could tell us which way to go. We attracted her attention with some difficulty, and then notcied that in front of her there was a machine, covered up. By way of explanation, I handed her my paperwork, she glanced through it, uncovered the machine and punched out a number for me and then one for Peter.

Waiting at the window

We stood in the hallway with all the other bored-looking people, leaning on the wall opposite the window where our help was supposed to come. We had numbers 25 and 26, and the window numbers were 18 and 19, so we figured there wouldn't be too long a wait. But there was no one serving at the window, the officers were all sitting at their desks looking very relaxed. I wondered if we should go and lean on the window even though our numbers weren't up there.

Suddenly a big man came bustling up to the window. He had about ten people in tow, and they all had papers like ours. He had a sheaf of numbers which he dealt out to them and started pushing them ahead of him to the window. The officers at the desks beyond jumped to and got to work.

I felt a bit annoyed - this felt like the next few hours of my life waiting for this group - so I sidled forward into the middle of his group and glared at him. He looked questionningly at me, and I showed him my number. He told me in English that his group had the numbers 19 and 20 - what all of them? - and he showed me his number - 27.

And then all of the numbers at the windows were suddenly switched off ... so I stepped back and waited. When the group were finally through I stepped forward (before the officers all went back to chat on Messenger at their desks) and waved my number. The man asked for my papers and looked through them.

The card index room

He said something in Turkish, and sighed when I replied "English?" He thought for a moment then said "Card index room" pointing down the corridor and handing me back my papers. People around had presumably heard and understood because people pointed for us and we entered a door that said (in English!) "Staff only. No unauthorised personnel".

There was a long blue counter, and behind it four police officers. The rest of the room was like a cartoon of an incredibly disorganised records room with ancient filing cabinets and drawers open, missing and broken and everything in apparent total disarray.

The first officer shook her head, handed our papers back to us and sent us to the other end of the counter. After the officer at the other end had played with our papers he sent us back to the first one, so she could play with them too.
And so then we went back at the window in the long hallway.

Nearly there

The man recognised us and accepted us back at his little window. He did a lot of playing with our papers - gluing on our pasport photos, stapling, stamping, entering into the computer, and handed us a sheaf of papers each. Then with a sigh he summoned up his English and told us:

Downstairs and pay, then back up here to table 2 (pointing to a window further along) and then table 1.

Time to pay

We went down the stairs, and we were a little startled to find that one floor down was the entrance from the courtyard - where had we been to in the lift?
There was no sign, but there were three booths - one had a photocopier, the second an ATM, and the third one had two men inside. We chose the third one and proffered our pile of papers. They gabbled something, and I smiled "English??"

So they wrote 346.90 on a piece of paper, and we paid.

Oddly enough, they rounded the amount up to 347 lira. At the end of the day, where do all those .10's go to, I wonder?

Back upstairs to "table 2" with our receipts in our hot little hands, vaguely wondering why Ali told us we would need 420lira when it was only 347lira.

As we approached the second window we saw firstly that there was a sign saying we would need to pay (another) 70 lira, and secondly that there was no one at the window - in fact the whole corridor was suddenly almost totally empty ...

Lunch break

We are glad not to be in China where they have three-hour lunch breaks.

I stood at the window waving my papers and looking wistful. The nice officer came across from where he was reading his newspaper and explained something in Turkish. I forced my tired face into one more smile and asked "English?" He sighed, and thought about it. "One o'clock".

So. It was 12.30 now, we only had another half an hour to wait.
And we had learnt our lesson about leaning on walls. Instead of moving away, we clung to the counter by the opening at "table 2" for the full 30 minutes. By the time the officer put down his paper and wandered across there was a large crowd gathered and pressing in behind us.

One more "table"

We paid our money and he shuffled our papers again, then pointed to the next window, "table one". There was a tight crowd of people behind us, and people waiting at the next counter which was still unattended. Rather than push out through the crowd and back in, we slid along the counter to be second in 'line'(!) at the next one. The lady ahead of me looked at my papers and hers, and decided she was at the wrong table, and we swapped places.

The officer finally arrived at the window, we handed over our papers and receipts, and he gave us a tiny scrap of paper.

This is what its all about. Later we have to return and swap this paper for our actual resident's permit.

Final Stages

Oh, and we need to go to the bank and take out all the American money and change it back into Turkish money. At that point someone (not us) stands to gain a fair bit of money - this would apparently be the reason why they insist on everyone having American dollars in their account.

16 December 2006

Big and Bizarre

After more than two months living in İstanbul, we finally got around to see that one thing which tourists usually go to see first -

The Grand Bazaar

I had no idea that the bazaar was mostly inside this amazing building - somehow I had expected it to be a series of little stalls outside like any other market. This place is huge, a maze of hallways and tunnels, some wide like this one and some just narrow little alleys.

We went with Stephanie (in green) and Shannon (in red), two of our colleagues, and two very different young American ladies. Stephanie is about to return home to the states for a holiday, and wanted to purchase gifts for family and friends. Shannon mostly wanted to look around, possibly buy a carpet, and practise her Turkish language with everyone she could.

I had no intention of buying anything, and I am not usually tempted much by the stuff I see in markets - especially tourist stuff. But this lot fair took my breath away - there was so much really beautiful stuff. Each shoplet was stuffed to the rafters with a mind-boggling variety of delightfully Turkish stuff ... and not a "made in China" sticker in sight!

This lot really did tempt me. There were so many displays of these charming ceramic bowls and plates in so many different sizes and styles. Each one apparently hand painted, bright and attractive, impossible to decide which one(s) ...

Maybe one day I'll go back and get some. When you live in İstanbul you can do that.

Shannon wanted jewellery, and we spent a long time looking at amber rings and necklaces. Once again, even I was tempted. There was an overwhelming variety of stones and pieces to suit every taste.

Today is Friday, our day off - and an important day at the mosques. As noon approached we saw more and more shop keepers closing up and preparing to go to prayer. Here and there in the tunnels of the bazaar there were taps and fountains, and men were busily washing their hands, faces and feet. Then we came across a particularly busy passageway, which was made even more congested as men came and placed their small carpets in the middle and got down to prayer.

We headed out into the brisk air of the outside part of the bazaar.

Here the goods for sale were more along the lines of jeans and t-shorts, shoes, hats ...

It was lunch time, so we settled at a little cafe in the sunshine. Lentil soup, Turkish style - not that gluey stuff I made when I tried to produce some in Oz years ago - is amazing.

Stephanie likes to add some red pepper flakes to hers. I just like to squezee in some lemon and dip my bread in.

The waiter boy brought our soup and çay on one of those little hanging trays we see everywhere. Even in the streets of Bakırköy we see people delivering these trays with çay to shopkeepers and their valuable customers up and down the street.

Most days at work this is what we have for lunch - haven't tired of it yet - red lentil soup, with a wedge of lemon, and a basket of the freshest possible bread. I like a glass of ayran (salty yoghurt drink) with mine, çay is nice too.

Is this Moses?

We came out of the bazaar through the gate near the mosque, and there was - apparently - Moses selling books and stuff.

Time to catch a bus back to little old Bakırköy - we are glad to call it home.