Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Transcontinental “Meet the Parents”

When my parents came to Turkey, we visited all types of beautiful and historic sights, however the main reason was to meet Bülent’s parents. 

Quick back-story: Bülent is Turkish (as you might have guessed.)  We met in Cambridge (Massachusetts) my junior year of college, I was attending nun-school (All-Women’s college—I loved every minute of my feminism injection.)  And he was getting his Masters from a school that he would prefer I not mention because he hates to name drop. (Hint: They hate Yale) We hit it off despite some minor issues.

Him--Why won’t you come to the bar with me? 

Me--Well, hmmm, maybe later. 

Him--When then? 

Me--A few months sound good?

We have been dating for over four years, and got engaged this February.  So we thought it was time that the parents should meet.  We weren’t too worried as our parents are all well behaved.  However, there was a lot of planning and coordination for the trip.  Also, my family does not speak Turkish and Bülent’s mother is not fluent in English.  While you might think this would be awkward (it was a little) it was also helpful. When strangers meet and engage in small talk it can always be awkward.  But, there was a valid excuse for gaps in conversation which allowed everyone some respite. 

The meeting of the parents went well, but I had developed a pretty severe stomachache that would not go away. Here is the gang, assembled for brunch.  It was great that they got to meet each other, as living in separate continents it was not likely that they would bump into each other at the grocery store.

TR Family Vacay 266

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Amazing Travels: Efes

Efes was fantastic!!


Well, the beer is good too, but I was talking about the ancient Greek city Efes.  Also known as Ephesus, it is located about 10 miles from the Aegean coast in Turkey.  It is incredible how much of the city is left.  The library, the brothel, the communal toilets.

TR Family Vacay 208

I know you are thinking, who is this girl?  She goes to an ancient ruin and takes photos of the potty?  Well people, it is all about class.  Also, I could not locate the brothel. 

Efes, in addition to having a spectacularly preserved city center, including amphitheaters and terrace houses, was also the location of the Temple of Artemis (built around 550 BC) which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The Temple was destroyed in 401 AD by a mob,  reconstructed, then later destroyed again in an earthquake. 

TR Family Vacay 137-1There is not much left beyond this pillar and a large depression in the ground.  However you can see the scale from the rubble that is left over, and it was enormous.

The city of Efes lost its importance as the river silt filled up the bay and the port town was no longer on the sea, and was eventually abandoned.  However nowadays the city is packed.  Tourists from all over scatter like ants on the ancient ruins.  What is really interesting is watching them compete for prime photo spots.  Some people wait in line, and others just jump right in.  Which causes conflict.  A few times I was tempted to sit down anampd watch the fight.  The amphitheater where the gladiators fought is right there, they could just move the fight over there.  Come on, jostling for photo opportunities, fighting to the death, same thing right? 

After seeing Efes, we lumbered back into the van to continue our drive to Marmaris, where my parents would meet his parents.  Not awkward at all.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Amazing Travels: Istanbul

I have just been on a one in a lifetime trip. Thank you Mom and Dad. Now, I know people out there are thinking, "Sure, tell us about your sponsored vacation, Little Rich Girl." Totally not the case. The last time I was in Europe I went with a girl friend, low budget backpaking. We stayed in hostels to save money, would eat the provided rolls and Tang for breakfast, sneak a couple of rolls in our pockets for lunch and for dinner eat whatever was cheapest, that we didn't think would kill us. It was winter, so we would go to the grocery store, buy cheese and bread, and hang it in a plastic bag out the hostel window at night to stay fresh. Back to the current vacation.
I got engaged in February and have been with Bulent for almost 5 years. We thought it was time for "Meet the Parents" Transcontinental style. Since my parents were planning on flying all the way to Turkey, they thought it would be fun to visit several places in Turkey and Greece. Bulent and I drove up from Marmaris to join them in Istanbul, a city I have not yet visited.

We stayed in a charming apartment with a view of the Bosphorous very close to Taksim Square, Istanbul's version of Times Square. Lively with pazars, and bars and pedestrian streets, it was a blast.
The view from the apartment was lovely

We visited Dolmabahce Sarayi (“Doll-ma-bah-che Saw-rye-i”). Dolmabahce was an opulent seafront Ottoman palace used during the empire’s last 80 years. It had a tremendous amount of European artistic influence. The palace was incredible and boasts 14 tons of gold in decoration. Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish republic spent his last days there.

Later we went to Kapalicarsi (“Cup-uli-chur-shi”). It is an Ottoman-style covered tunnel with carpet, jewelry and leather shops. It was a maze of shops, ranging from swords and shoes to jewley and carpets. The vareity was truly amazing as were the negotionations. I speak a little Turkish now, and it was suprising how much it counted when haggling about the price. All the shopkeepers would bust out smiling when they heard it, and knock down the price right away. The beggining price offered to me was usually less than my mother could bargain down to on the same item.

The third day we had a packed schedule, the problem with Istanbul is that it is such an amazing city with so much beauty and history. I think that you could live in Istanbul your whole life and not be able to see all it has to offer. On the day of the championship sight seeing we hit up three amazing places, Topkapi Sarayi, Sultanahmet Cami and the Ayasofya.

Topkapi Sarayi (“Top-cup-i Sorr-I-i”): An Ottoman palace from 1400s used as the Ottomans’ adminstration building for 400 yrs. It was filled with artifacts and riches from the Ottomans' reign.

Photo by sl4mmy

Sultanahmet Cami (“Sull-ton-uh-met Jum-ee”): An Ottoman mosque built in 1600s. It is also known as “Blue Mosque” because of the beautiful hand painted tiles that adorn its walls. It is still a mosque currently, and so you can only visit during non prayer times of the day. Even then, speaking is restricted as people do pray during those times as well.

Ayasofya (“I-yah-sophia”)or Hagia Sophia, a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. It was built as a cathedral between the years 532 AD and 537 AD(Hagia Sophia). When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the 1450's the cathedral was converted into a mosque(Ayasofya). This building was truly amazing in its beauty and sheer size.

To give you an idea of the immensness, this is the stone stair case to reach the top.
It is at least a 10 minute walk.

Origionally, when it was a church the ceilings were covered with mosaics, but when it was converted into a mosque the mosacis were plastered over. It has been under renovations for many years, as you can see there is alot of resortation needed. Slowly the plaster is being removed to reveal the underlaying mosaics. However, the issue is, that in reomving the plaster to unover the mosaics, important and historic Islamic art would have to be reoved or destoryed. For example the Islamic calligraphy below.

The next day we left for Efes the ancient Greek city. After all the sightseeing we were a little tired. However, we knew Efes was going to be amazing. So we hopped in the van, and started our roadtrip south. This is my brother. I had just told him how long the trip would be, you can tell he is thrilled.

Tomorrow: Efes

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Posts But Lots of Material

Though it may not have been noticed, I have not posted in a while. This can be explained very clearly. My parents came to Turkey to visit me and meet my fiance's parents.

We spent a few days in Istanbul, drove down to Efes and saw the ancient ruins, drove down to Marmaris and had a "Meeting of the Parents." We left Turkey on Saturday, by ferry, spent the day visiting Rhodes (or Rodos) and patronizing their fine hospital facilities, and then took the ferry to Santorini, the Greek Island that is so lovely you understand WHY they believed in so many Gods. I will be posting more on the recent adventures once I get back to my computer in Marmaris. Because right now, as I type I am being distracted.
By this.

I am going to go enjoy the view and the sunshine while I can, and post later.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sarma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

I love sarma, sometimes called dolma. Grape leaves stuffed with rice and beef, served with yogurt on top. Intellectually I knew that it was a time consuming food to make. But, doing it yourself, afterwards, every mouthful tasted like gold. As it damn well should, it took so long.

It was totally worth every minute.


1 1/2 pounds of ground beef

3 onions diced finely

1 tsp of salt

2 cups of uncooked short grain rice

1/2 cup of water

5 tablespoons of tomato paste

2 1/2 of black pepper

1/4 cup of olive oil

3 teaspoons of mint

75 to 100 medium grape leaves

If you can't find fresh, brined will do.

Take all of the ingredients above and combine, mixing thoroughly (except the lemon). The seasoning will be most evenly distributed if you knead it with your hands. Forget about not wanting to touch the meat with your hands. If those are your feelings, you are going to have an awfully hard time stuffing the grape leaves.

While the meat is resting from its workout, wash the leaves, then place them in a boiling pot of water for 5 minutes, until tender, but not too soft.

When they go in they will look like this

When they cocme out they will look like this.

After they come out of the pot, drain them well, rinse in cold water, then firmly squeeze out any water, but be careful not to rip the leaves.

To Fill

Gently separate each leaf, (I recommend readying several at once then rolling assembly style) tear off the steam. Holding the leaf vein side up, place a small amount of filling horizontally

1. Looking at your left palm, turn down the right corner of the leaf

2. Now the left corner, also please ignore the rice on my thumb, it looks gross. Your hands will get messy.

3. & 4. Bring first the right then the left sides of the leaf in, in a parallel fold

3. Fold

4. Fold

5. Now the tricky part. Using your thumb to keep the roll tight, start rolling the filling down towards the bottom of the leaf.

Keep it Tight (or it will spill all over the place)

Whew! Finished!

Now, go make a hundred more. When you are finished, take a heavy bottomed pot with a lid, cover the bottom with grape leaves(the ones that ripped or seemed tough), then carefully place your sarmas inside, seam side down, close together but not tightly packed.

Add enough water to cover the sarmas (I used the water I cooked the grape leaves in, because it has all the nutrients from the grape leaves.) Juice the lemon and add it to the water. Cook on the stovetop on a low heat, for about an hour, until the rice is down. At 50 minutes, check on the rice, if it is not done, give it another 10 minutes or so. When serving, it is great with yogurt on top. I love to add mashed garlic to my yogurt, and then spoon it on top. As tasty as this is I would not advise it on a "Date Night," or everyone will regret it.

In the event you are floundering with your grape leaves, as I was, below is a video of an expert grape leaf stuffer. Behold the mastery.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Farmer's Have Lots Of Land...And Now Money

The history of Marmaris is pretty interesting. Founded in about the 6th century BC, it was originally known as Physkos. It has been conquered and invaded many times, the most recent invaders being the tourist, who were welcomed with open arms.

The bay is surrounded by high rocky mountains, and the air can be very humid. Decades ago, the land by the sea was swampy. The villagers sent an envoy to the Turkish government, asking for relocation. They were sick, with tuberculosis and other diseases which were exacerbated by the heat and humidity. The government said no, and back the villagers went, to their small farming community on the gorgeous coast. The fathers left the less valuable swampy land directly on the coast to their daughters and the more agrarian land further back towards the mountains to their sons. Later the community built canals, which helped dry up the swamp lands. Then in the late 1970's a Marmaris was discovered by mainstream tourists. There was a building boom in the 80's and now the year round population of this small town is 28,000 and the summer population 400,000. While many foreigners have bought houses and land, the majority of the hotels and buildings are still owned by the villagers. Ironically the daughters ended up with the most valuable land.

While many of the villagers are wealthy now, most of them still work the land. Many have relocated higher up into the mountains where there is more land to farm. Some are still nestled in between the hotels. You know who is really wealthy, when you see a small home, with a large garden plot, and livestock in the back. Becausee you know, if they wanted to, they could sell the land for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The stories are pretty interesting, they go like this.

"See that man over there?

Which man?

The man on the really old bike.

Oh Yes, what about him?

Oh, well he is our gardener, and he owns those homes over there.


See those five houses?


Well, those are all his.


I think the best story was told by a friend of the family. He said that there was this elderly village lady, who rode around on her bike selling eggs. She looked so poor, that he ALWAYS bought eggs, and slipped her a little extra. After all, she looked so poor, and old, He felt badly.

After this had been going on for a while he found out that she wasn't that poor. She owns half the hotels in the village. But still bikes around selling her eggs.

What I think is amazing is that many of the villagers are doing the exact same thing they would have done, had they not been wealthy. Except now, they can enjoy it more because it is a not a life or death struggle. If the farming does not go well, they always have the hotels.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I Have Been Negligent

I must apologize for my blogging negligence. However, I have reasons, they are the following:

1. Gorgeous Beaches

2. Scenic Streets and Canals

3. Gorgeous Beaches

4. Marinas and Sightseeing

5. Gorgeous Beaches

6. Gorgeous Man

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

We Need New Curtains

Because I burned the old ones. While they were hanging on the wall. I set the house ON FIRE. Not my house. Bülent's parents’ house, the summer home they are graciously sharing. I am clumsy, but usually I just hurt myself. Bülent's parents are incredibly busy right now because they have just bought a new summer home, one that will fit them, their adult children and their partners. They are in the process of rehabbing it, and preparing to sell their current home. They are busy because they wanted us all to have enough space to have beautiful, peaceful, vacations. And in return, I set their house on fire. In my defense, it was just the curtains, and I was cooking dinner for them, so that they would have a nice meal when they came home. But still, on the list of gifts for your hosts, a houseful of smoke is not normally high on the list. Thankfully I managed to stop it before the whole curtain was on fire. It was just then end bits that were flaming, when I started smacking it with my wooden spoon. Then I tried to blow it out (Really? Did I pass third grade science?) I caught myself being an idiot so I smothered it with my wooden spoon and my hands until I could get Bülent to bring water. Looking at the curtain, not only are they black from char marks, but they have tomato stains from the spoon I used to put out the fire. I did manage not to burn dinner, for which they were eternally grateful. They were so happy that dinner was ready after such a long day of errands that they didn’t even mind I had set the kitchen on fire.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Villager's Breakfast

Ohh My Goodness. My first morning here we went out for brunch at place where they serve "Villager's Breakfast." To get there we drove up into the mountains and through the village. We arrived at the Restaurant. It was beautiful.

An open air establishment, they had designed the whole area around these big fat trees that must be a hundred years old. The restaurant was made of different levels of patios and wooden platforms constructed around the trees, and a stream running through the middle. It was a hot day, but nice and cool under the leaves, with the mountain breeze, and the fresh air from the water. It was rustic, here is the Mama hen and her chicks that were running around. Bülent is positive that she clucked in condemnation when he started feeding the chicks sugar cubes.

This is the duck couple that came by later. They were conversing pretty intently.

And the food. Bülent and his parents ordered sucuk omelets, and I had menemen. So tasty. The meal came with fresh warm bread, honeycomb, three types of cheese, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, butter, homemade strawberry jam, peppers nuts and tea. Marmaris is known for its honey, and the honeycomb spread on bread was just about the best thing I have had. I will be looking for it later. After I take a run. Or eight.

Road Trip!!!

Saturday we were on the road

From Ankara and Marmaris it took 10 hours. While driving through the middle of the country there is not alot other than natural beauty. This is my way of saying there was no radio station available for at least 9 hours of the trip. However, after we arrived and I was unpacking the car I found a case of CDs I could have played. That would have been nice, for me, but probably nicer for Bülent. I was a little bored at about the 6 hour mark and started singing. The songs I know well enough to sing (badly) are nursery rhymes and the poor man was assaulted by numerous versus of "Down by the Bay" and " 5 Little Speckled Frogs." However, all in all it was a good trip.

We stopped in Afyon and got a sucuk sandwich (the town is known for its amazingly tasty beef sausage.) There is no picture because it was too delicious to wait to eat. And then for dinner we stopped in a small town at a pide shop and got meat pide "Aegean Style” which translates into SUPER TASTY!! Served with raw onions and tomatoes.

And then this.

Try to look past the bug smeared windshield and appreciate what it is. It is my first glimpse of the Mediterranean after driving across the Anatolian hinterlands, and traversing several mountain ranges. We had been driving though curvy mountain passes for about an hour when we were able to see the sea. Marmaris is really gorgeous; it is situated on a small bay on the Mediterranean backed up against a mountain range. It is very warm by the sea, but about a mile back, towards the mountain a delicious breeze trickles down and it is never too hot. I am sure you will hear more about Marmaris the longer I am here.