Wednesday, March 21, 2012


My Sultanahmet day...

A ferry ride into Europe:

Hagia Sophia:

Believe me when I say, it is a world wonder for good reason. Besides being almost 2000 years old, being covered in marble from top to bottom, and hosting the likes of Constantine and Mehmet II in it's prayer chamber, it also employs a man who was convinced that Hannah and I were twins. 

(*In a whisper from his guard stall*)
"Come here lady, I have question..."
(*Still in a whisper. Why we were whispering, I don't know.*)
"You chins?"
"Chins. You chins?"
(*My mind: Chins, chins, chins, chins...?!*)
"Hmmm, tourists? Yes, I am a tourist, but that is my friend Hannah, she lives he..."
"NO. CHINS. You sisters? CHINS."

Twins. Ah yes. No sir, we are not chins. 

I walked into the front entrance and stood there spell bound for a long while, it is that beautiful. The work is unthinkably expansive, intricate, and clearly, built to last. I felt incredibly small standing under elaborate, sweeping domes; under ancient paintings of angels that had been done and redone through years of conquest and religious turnover. I saw the alter that is skewed by 3 degrees from the center because it now faces Mecca and not Jerusalem, walked through the upstairs galleys where Queens were allowed to observe church services and prayer, took in the shading in the the thousands of tiles and stones that made up images of Jesus and Empresses. I can't imagine how many hours and numb fingers it took to finish the vast mosaics that cover the walls. Neither can I imagine the feeling of gratification at laying in that last stone and seeing the finished work.

Blue Mosque:

Where the Hagia Sophia is red, the Blue Mosque, directly opposite, is (rather appropriately, I think) blue. It has six minarets instead of the customary four, three, two, or one, because the Sultan - in an attempt to outshine the Hagia Sophia - demanded the four intended minarets be made of gold. The words "gold" and "six" are similar in Turkish, and a slightly fuzzy phone line resulted in six decidedly non-gold turrets.  

New Mosque:

Brand new - built in 1597 and all that - it was right off of our ferry terminal and hosted the greatest amount of pigeons I have ever seen. It was also breathtakingly beautiful. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Turkish Food.

Monday rolled round and Hannah and I woke up to a quiet homestead. The boys left us to our own devises (after a desperate 6am canter to find Brent’s passport) and meandered off to Europe. Doing what we do, we decided we would either dedicate our day to moping or to food. The latter won out in a fairly showy manner. Blame it on the simmit. The simmit itself is an illustrious creature, one that elevates the common carb to an art form. It is the Turkish bagel. It is round like a bagel, has a hole in the middle like a bagel, and is to be found everywhere like a bagel. But unlike a bagel, it is crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, twisted to perfect the crisp-to-fluff ratio, and then tastefully scattered with sesame seeds lending a certain punch to an otherwise ordinary mouthful. Then you add nutella and the simmit becomes seductive and borderline hazardous. If Delilah were a food, she would be a simmit with nutella. You just can’t quit.


We found a little coffee shop that Hannie had walked by in the past, and found out that they roasted their own coffee (what a thoroughly Seattelite thing to do) so we walked over the counter and pondered our options. Note: In my future travel book, “Things to Know in Turkey”, I will stress to you the importance of not going up to the counter. It is quite simply never done. 

Alpashlan, our waiter, who we had for the moment put out of a job, hovered around behind the counter until we ordered our tea and sat down. Somewhat relieved, he brought us or chai (tea in Turkey is always served in beautiful tulip-shaped glasses, plain, with sugar lumps on the side and a tiny spoon for stirring them in with – if you’re a man, you order it dark. A glass of “rabbits blood”, says Hannah) and chatted for a bit. He wanted to know where we were from, what Hannah was doing there, have I tried Turkish coffee? No? Would I like some? Is that a question. Libations Round Two went down and we drank excellent coffee out of tiny cups – it was much like an espresso shot with sugar in it, the only difference being that half of the cup contains grounds that will tell you your fortune. Swish it around the side, let it settle for a few minutes, and pictures start to emerge.

Hannah foretold that I would be going to a warm country, have a man starting with the letter M on the horizon, and that probably I will continue to enjoy the color blue. Who knew?

3 hours later, after solving most of the worlds problems and yet another cup of something (Salup was next up – a mix of orchid root and semolina seeds that tastes much like horchata mixed with melted vanilla ice cream and then topped with cinnamon), it was off to the chicken man for dönner to tide us over till dinner time’s Sri Lankan food. And Bollywood movies. #Winning.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

On Turkish Ferry Boats and Such.

Merhaba from a hammock on the hill,
There is a balmy gust wafting through the leaves of the mango tree I am currently under, my feet have not seen shoes in over twenty four hours (I aim to make them forget that shoes ever were a thing), and I learned the rudimentary skills of making string hoppers this morning. Oh it’s good to be home.

But wait, you say, “Merhaba”? Merhaba is Turkish for hello, silly girl, wrong language.

It’s because I’m going to tell you about Turkey for a little bit first.


My dear mother referred to my ten days with Hannah as “a wonderful introduction to Istanbul”, which I greatly appreciated – a. because it really was wonderful and b. because the word “introduction” implies that there is more to follow. A week and a half was all it took for me to know that I want my life to be written with paragraphs and paragraphs dedicated to Turkey.

It is amazing, travel blog reader, absolutely amazing. My airbus trundled over several air bumps before sweeping through the clouds to reveal tangled miles of sunbathed streets, soaring minarets, and the twinkling Marmara.

I started off in typical fashion by ending up on the wrong continent. A taxi from Ataturk Airport to the Üsküdar Iskelle (ferry terminal) where Hannah, Brent, and Ryan were going to pick me up felt like a straightforward plan…until I got to the Üsküdar Iskelle and there was no Hannah, Brent, or Ryan to be seen. Only a million people who didn’t speak English and several boats. T’was just fine. I made a Turkish friend or three, one of whom gave me his phone (Turks are the most helpful people around), and we finally got a hold of Hannah. Between hero-phone-owner rattling off in Turkish to her for several minutes, Hannah and I separately trying to get back on the phone with each other (“MY FRIEND. GIVE. MY FR…”), and trying to wheel my luggage out of people’s way we somehow managed to figure out that I was in Eminönü at the ferry terminal that would take me to Üsküdar. A ferry token is 2 Turkish Lira and I had 10 Turkish Lira, so I stood in front of the token machine expectantly for about five minutes or so (expecting what, I’m still not sure, English directions? A magical change dispenser?) until the little man tending the corn stand impatiently took my wallet from me, riffled through it till he found the 10 in question and clucked at me while he counted out change. I have never been so thankful.

Sitting on the ferry with many pounds of luggage around me, I settled in for the long haul. I was going to Asia. Turning to the man next to me, I asked if it would take much longer than two hours and was only mildly put off when he ignored the question completely and smiled at me a little pityingly. It was only when I was trucking said pounds of luggage off the ferry about 15 minutes later that I realized it was probably the stupidest question he had heard in a while.

I didn’t have too much time to ponder on this particular learning moment, because in a minute I was wrapped up in the best kind of hugs – the kind that seem too good to be true because they come from people who’ve been out of hugging distance for so long.

Hannah, Brent, Ryan and I spent the weekend together doing some cool stuff:

The Chora Church:


Clearly the Byzantine crew knew how to do things with some element of panache. And also some skill. The church was put up in the 11th century and stands splendidly still, with only a little spiffing up of the old mosaics in between.

Taking in luscious Istanbul:


The Grand Bazaar:

I haggled down a tea set from the original 35 liras to a mere 20 liras and felt just a little impressed with myself.
“Where are you from, lady?”
“Sri Lanka.”
“Ah, this why your English not good.”

Ah how the prideful do fall.

Not depicted, yet noteworthy: Stumbling upon beautiful little coffee shops in Galata and enjoying chai, Huka, trying Efes (the national Turkish beer) and rakı, dancing the night away at Araf. Ryan made many friends and also Turks spurn American music in favor of Spanish guitar.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

More on Trinco.

Ah dear bloggers, we are once again sorry that we have made you wait so long for our next post…but here we are. Back. With another adventure to the coast even.

There is nothing like a spontaneous adventure, really, so that is what we did. The day before we decided a last stint at the beach would be optimum (defined: most conducive to a favorable outcome; best) and so to put this decision into pro-active action, we woke up at 6 in the morning one fine Tuesday and hopped a rattling, shaking, booming beast of a bus. We trundled onward for four and a half hours (with the roughly three hundred people who also decided that bus ride would be fun that day)– stopping only once or twice so the bus driver could have a cup of tea. Naturally. We arrived a little windblown, but otherwise intact and were picked up at the bus halt by our very own Bala – who, incidentally, was very wary of the idea of two airheads on a non-English-speaking bus. Oh ye of little faith.
Wending our way through the streets of Trinco, we related stories of our incompetent bus conductor, who, with a casual flick of the wrist misinformed us at every given opportunity (wanting to walk to a hotel, he waved in the hotels general direction, failing to mention it was 11 miles away), and presently found ourselves at a little guesthouse called “Guesthouse”. It was basic but such is the nature of spontaneous trips – more basic the better. It also fringed the most perfect beach I have personally ever seen. Private, clear, blue, warm, white sanded and tourist-free it really was absolutely flawless.
Now Bala trips are traditionally non-stop, tiring, an absolute blast and marked by house music, biscuits and milo – and this was absolutely no exception. We (Bala, Dan, Sumedha, Fado, Al and Steph) boated off straight away to Pigeon Island where we spent hours snorkeling in the deep blue and oood and aaahd – or bubbled enthusiastically– at the lobsters, fish, sharks and sea leeches of immense size swimming around the nether world.
6 hours of swimming and lemonpuffs later, we jetted off into the sunset…only to sit on the beach and enjoy it from there. We flew kites and walked and body surfed and had a general good time until the best dinner of all time. Our fisherman friends fished our dinner from the ocean and proceeded to cook it right there on the beach in a custom made BBQ. All it took was a grill over a hole in the sand, several prime sized fish and some salt and pepper. Add on fresh caught prawns and crabs and more lemon puffs and you have yourself joy on a plate.
The butt-crack of dawn came early the next day. Breakfast? You guessed it. Lemon puffs (let me just clarify – lemon cream holding two melt-in-your-mouth biscuits together make for the most addicting creation ever. We brought half a suitcase back.) We spent the better part of the morning looking for an evasive sea turtle that never showed its face but that was fine because we got to swim around with a guide who showed us everything else the sea had to offer. The man was apparently super human, didn’t have to breath normal air and diving 35 feet to casually observe mollusks on the ocean floor in nothing but flippers was seemingly commonplace.

Snorkeling was, in due time, replaced with an activity of the faster variety. We tied a body board to the back of the boat in lieu of water skies or inner tubes, seeing as we didn’t have those and then strapped ourselves firmly to the body board in question. Clinging with ardent determination to a bit of rope holding body-boarder to boat, the boat was motioned forward and lo, the adventures of the impromptu water sport session began. No one drowned, arms stayed on the body board is still intact. Absolute success.

After on last dive into the sea and a frantic swim to shore, we packed up the jeep and said goodbye to the coast.

On the way home we lunched on vast mounds of fried rice and visited the temple Thirukoreswaram – an ancient hindu temple on a cliff overlooking the sea. It was beautiful and very interesting. Shoes came off, shawls were wrapped around offending bare shoulders and legs and the view, the smells, the sounds, the drums, the prayers and the colors were taken in.

The drive home was a little cozy, but backstreet boys, house, westlife, mad bouts of laughter, biscuits and good company made it entirely worthwhile.
Best. Trip. Ever.
Alisa and Steph