31 May 2007

Fun with Students

You could say that living in Turkey isn't all that different from Australia. Well, no, that's not really true.

We are still teaching - we were teaching in Australia. No, that's different too.

One of the really nice things about this job is the students that we teach.

That's Gözde and Merve, a couple of the girls in my morning weekday class. As you can see, they are very studious - I never have to say, "Sit down! Be quiet! Gözde don't steal Merve's book!" and things like that.

Most of our lessons are four hours long. The best bit is the ten minute breaks every hour. Then the students head downstairs to the courtyard for a smoke and a cup of çay (Turkish tea). We are free to have a coffee in our staff room, or join them.

This is Cenk and Yiğit, a couple of lively young chaps from my morning class enjoying their break time.

Now that the weather is getting hotter - and very humid - and very few of the classrooms are air-conditioned, we often take our classes outside under a tree or in the "Wendy House" in the courtyard.

My Sunday afternoon class were discussing a documentary Cengiz had seen about English people dunking their biscuits into their tea. He was curious to know if it tasted good.

So we sent to the school canteen for some tea and biscuits, and we had a little lesson in English Culture.

Now there's a class you don't get to teach in Australian primary school.

28 May 2007

Erik - Turkish plum

Back in Spring time we had a tree full of beautiful blossoms right outside our bedroom window ... and Ali told us he thought it might be a peach tree. We were looking forward to that!

Well, they're not peaches. Plums. Turkish plums. They look a bit like Greengage plums here, though, don't they?

Here, let me reach out and pick you a few.

Yeah, they are really tiny.

And tart? Oh, yes! You don't fill your mouth with these - and they do have a hard little stone inside just like normal plums.

But people love them. The students have removed all the plums off the lower branches, as high as they can reach. And you can buy them by the kilo in fruit shops. And some restaurants serve them as a treat at the end of the meal.

Charlotte's Turn

Another Birthday. Another chocolate cake.

Yeah its a bit mean taking a photo of someone blowing out their candles - but it's always been traditional in our family, and Charlotte is almost our daughter.

Charlotte is a Beşiktaş fan - one of the local football teams (not actually the winning team). So we got her a 2 000 piece jigsaw puzzle with a picture of the stadium ... a few happy hours.

She's looking forward to going home to the UK soon, though.

22 May 2007

Wow! Capadocia - Wow!

Saturday was a public holiday. On Tuesday we discovered we could rearrange a coupla lessons and open a window of opportunity ... so on Wednesday afternoon we shot down to Capadocia (Kapadokya) for three days.

It was a documentary on Kapadokya that sparked my interest in Turkey years ago, before we started any of this ESL caper.

We stayed at Göreme House in Göreme village, in one of their cave suites.

On Thursday morning we got up and went on a full-day tour of the whole area, and we saw the underground city of Kaymakli and other landmarks.

On Thursday evening we went to see a performance by the Whirling Dervishes.

On Friday we hiked all over Göreme and walked through Love Valley.

And then on Saturday morning we got up early (4 am) and went hot air ballooning. That was the most incredible experience!

1. Göreme and Göreme House

Many people in Göreme live in cave homes, although we were told it is illegal to just live in a cave as such, you can only do so if you have a house attached. So many of the hotels offer cave rooms. We stayed in one of the two cave suites at Göreme House:

Sitting room - bedroom.
Bathroom with a spa - such a great help after climbing through tunnels, and up and down hills and valleys. Also here the view through our tiny bedroom window looking out the back of the "fairy chimney" rock structure that the hotel is built into.

(If the pictures are too small to see you can 'click' on them to see the larger version.)

Göreme House offers "all day breakfast", though we found this does not mean you can have "second breakfast" later in the day! Breakfast was a special moment in the day because they try to keep it very Turkish - unlike some hotels who try to pander to foreigners' normal diet.

The breakfast room is a bright pleasant place on the top floor of the hotel.

This was not a buffet-style breakfast, here is Ahmet about to prepare our breakfast plates.

On the first morning we were tickled pink to be served rich dark chocolate cake along with the cheese, butter, tomatoes and cucumber around the edge of our plate.

The space in the centre is for something cooked, like these rolled cheesy things we had the next day.

And this time there were little sausages instead of chocolate cake. Egg - cooked any way you choose - are served on a separate side plate, not on toast as we are used to.
And then, of course, there is the soft, fresh bread that comes with every meal.

And an array of things to put on it. They make the most amazing jams and conserves in Turkey, the word "chunky" does not come close to describing them.

There are a number of villages and towns in the Kapadokya region, but we felt that Göreme was particularly nice because it is not just a tourist centre but it is a regular country village with farmers and people going about their daily lives. We saw children heading off to school, a farmer ploughing his field with a horse-drawn plough, cows being led through the streets, and women toiling in the fields.

2. Tour of Kapadokya Region

On Thursday we joined a tour group of 18 people travelling around in a mini-bus. The whole day's tour, including lunch and entrance fees to several venues cost us only 50 lira - in stark contrast to the rest of our holiday!

We went to Kaymakli, the underground city where the Christians hid from their persecutors centuries ago. Apparently people would stay down there for up to three months at a time. I had difficulty staying calm down there for more than a few minutes. There were some wide open caverns - such as the chapel built (dug) in the shape of a cross at the seventh floor down - and the kitchen, and bedrooms with cosy little sleeping bays. But mostly it was tunnels barely shoulder-width and with a roof so low we had to bend double.

Going down a stairway for several floors in a tunnel barely wide enough to fit through and having to bend over was a real test of my self-control.

When we came to the stairway to the eighth floor down, our guide announce that the light-bulb down there was broken - but it would be okay because there was an air-shaft to the outside letting in some light ... as long as we could make it safely down the stairs. No problem, everyone pulled out their mobile phone and used the little glowing light.

Every time the tour bus stopped there were people trying to sell us souvenirs. I wanted to buy a hat anyway, and a new handbag because the catch was broken on mine. This little ( and I mean little!) man came along and was bargaining with me about the bag. He was very keen to have his photo taken with me, so I handed my camera to his friend ... who proceeded to try to take the photo with the camera facing the wrong way, towards his own face. Eventually I got him to turn it around and press the right button.

We travelled to a number of different sites, including these ancient cave homes in the hillside, and on the way our young guide entertained us with chat and information. He was telling us the story of King Midas (I can't actually remember why) - you know, the king who was able to turn everything to gold with his touch, but sadly not only could not eat but also managed to also turn his beloved daughter to gold. Our guide explained how in order to get rid of the curse, the gods required that Midas give up all his gold and his trousers. This was a new twist on the story, and had all of us listening with puzzled frowns ... why his trousers?

Do you know? Can you guess?

We climbed the hill and wandered through some of those cave homes, and the cave cathedral.

3. The Whirling Dervishes

Another couple who were on our tour and also staying in our hotel had made arrangements to see the Whirling Dervishes, and as we had never seen this wonder before we decided it was time to find out what they actually do ...

The large audience sat in the dark in silence and eager anticipation, until the dervishes arrived in their tall tall hats and long black coats.

Then there was a long a capella song (in Arabic, I presume) by one of them, followed by a long breathy flute solo.

And then the Arabesque music started in earnest, and they removed their black coats and they whirled. That's what they do. That's all they do. Not very fast, but as they twirl their full white skirts stick out and makes it look like they are going faster. Head tipped to the right, arms up with one palm turned up and one down, whirling anticlockwise.

That's it. Now you know. Now you don't need to go and see them - unless you really want to.

4. Hiking Through Love Valley
and the Open Air Museum

We climbed the hill behind Göreme, Peter wanted to get up to where someone had hung a huge Fenerbahçe flag (Fenerbahçe football team has just won the premiership here.)

On the other side of this hill is one of several "love valley"s - the name comes from the particular shape of the fairy chimneys in the valley.

From there we went a little out of the village to see the "Open Air Museum".

At the entrance to the museum there is a small market - of course - and a camel. We thought there would be lots of camel rides, camel treks to go on in Kapadokya region, but this was the only one we saw.

As we climbed further up the hill to the museum, the storm that had been following us all day - mumbling and grumbling with thunder and occasionally splattering us with a few drops - finally let rip.

So we didn't get to go into the museum - being an open air museum it's not a place to go in the rain. We did get a picture of it from the balloon the next day.

5. The Big Balloons

On Saturday we got up at 4 am, and were picked up by minibus at 4.55am. We had decided to take the longer, more expensive balloon trip - especially when we were given a special offer for being residents in Turkey.

Most of the balloons (there are seven companies operating in the district) take off from the same area. But our pilots, Lars and Kailie (who have been doing this in the area for 17 years), like to carefully choose a spot that will give them favourable winds so that they can take the ballons through interesting valleys.

The baskets and other equipment are taken to the site on special trailers, two minibuses carry the passengers for the two rides.

Kailie explains how to get into the basket (lying down), and a couple of simple safety precautions should we have a rough landing ( in wind).

They use huge petrol engine fans to fill the balloon with cold air first.

Then they turn on the burners and start filling the balloon with hot air. At this point some of us climbed into the basket, lying on our backs.

In no time at all the balloons were loaded - we were both in Lars' balloon - the ground crew gently let go of the ropes, and we lifted off. There was almost no sensation of movement.

At this time of the morning, the sky is full of balloons.

But Lars and Kailie take their balloons away from the main bunch and into Pigeon Valley and Love Valley.

Our two balloons played hide-and-seek in and out of the valleys - sometimes going so low that we brushed the trees and when we were barely above the ground we saw several rabbits and a couple of foxes which were surprised by our silent arrival.

After an hour we could see the other balloons returning to earth, but we lifted higher, up to 7000 feet.

I had expected to be quite cold up there - especially when I saw everyone else was rugged up with layers of jumpers and all I had was a thin cotton shirt and a denim jacket. But it was not in the least windy, because we moved gently with the wind - "we are the wind", explained Kailie. And the burner periodically warmed everyone in the basket, as well as lifting the balloon.

Finally we started looking for a suitable landing place - we didn't want to accidentally land on someone's crops. The crew on the ground had finished packing away the balloons from the shorter trips, and we could see them watching and following us. Lars was chatting with them on his mobile phone.

Our descent was slow and gentle. A rope was thrown over and the crew grabbed it and held on. To everyone's surprise, they managed to land Kailie's basket right on top of the trailer.

We landed gently on the grass and a couple of passengers climbed out, which gave us enough lift for the crew to move us over to the trailer.

Time for celebration - another successful trip. The crew grabbed handfuls of wildflowers and decorated the basket. They set up a little table and opened a couple of bottles of champagne.

Red juice and champagne makes a drink they call "Cloud 9". A crowd of local people, including some excitable kids, joined us as shared in the juice and cake.

Was it worth doing? Oh yes!

Oh, and why did Midas have to give up his trousers??
The young man was confused between "trousers" and "treasures". (Midas had to give up his gold and treasures.)