Sunday, February 9, 2014

Spain - land of the relaxed

I didn't really get back into the blog the way I intended. Lots of things have been changing and I'm trying to work out what the hell I'm doing generally, but it looks like it's kind of settling down and I'm doing a million things at once and answering that age old question (which I hate) "What do you do?"

I travel. Hell yeah. I know that that makes me happy and somehow I've ended up with a job that sends me to other countries, so that's cool! I'm also teaching English, and editing English, and teaching more English, and am about to try branch out into a small artsy business venture with a friend. And also, that I still love Spain hugely. HI SPAIN! CAN I WORK I WITH YOU?

I went to Barcelona end of last year for a tourism and event management fair, and got a few days to hang out in the gothic quarter and catch up with a friend from London. The weather was miserable, and I got sick - a common occurrence these days, (if you have any suggestions as to how or why I am ill every second week, let me know!) but drank far too many cocktails and wine, ate lots and saw some pretty awesome sites. 

And then this week I went to Malaga! Which sealed the deal. I was working so I didn't get to hang out and chill, but what I saw was beautiful, and relaxed, and comfortable. Malaga felt like New Plymouth in a lot of ways - beach town, big port, lots of cafés and bars (though with a Spanish flair and far more culture) and very calm, none of the chaos of Istanbul, and lots of people out exercising, riding bikes, generally smiling and saying hello! With half a million inhabitants it's much bigger than NZ towns but it had small town charm and exquisite old buildings.

I forgot my camera :s

Work was paying and I got to eat at the events we were managing so ate a lot of jambon and seafood. There was flamenco dancing, Spanish guitar music, a Michelin chefs restaurant which I found delicious but confusing, a castle dinner, wine and espresso constantly, tapas, and a day trip to Granada to see the Alhambra!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm baaaaaack! In the real? World


Remember me?

I used to have this little blog, and I was pretty good at updating it... Then... 

 Summer happened!

I have to be honest, the photos are beautiful but it was the most challenging job I've ever had. I learnt a hell of a lot though - about myself, about people who lead lives one would only dream of (or feel like a Nightmare in), about sailing and working 20 hour days, about physical jobs, how to make Turkish coffee for ten people, how to make every champagne cocktails and martinis. I experienced amazing things and thing I never hope to enjoy again - visited beautiful bays with crystal clear waters, ancient archeological sites, pretty little fishing villages, the experience of falling asleep the second your head hits the pillow (or while sitting upright at the table as was often the case), I discovered the ultimate pick-me-up is an espresso, an apple and a big spoon of Nutella. I exploded just two 600euro bottles of champagne, made hundreds of coffees, cocktails and strange diet teas. I saw the best, and worse, of people. I know that money can't buy you class, but diet pills can make you skinny. 

I also got a tan, have ginger hair, and kept some pretty awesome muscles in my arms from pulling ropes!

I am now in Istanbul, with a new job, a new apartment, and a whole lotta bills!
Here's an ode to my days, though 9-5 seems like a dream in this here country of 6 days a week, 9hours a day....

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Welcome Spring!

It’s official. I seriously hate February and March in the Northern hemisphere. I don’t ever remember being so effected by short grey days in NZ throughout October and November though. So I’ve had a hiatus on the blog, but have been running, rediscovered yoga, and actually been pretty busy with the girls. Yesterday they had friends over for the day and we headed to Emirgan Park down the road for some playtime. I foolishly forgot my camera so enjoy my phone-taken delights where I was playing around with settings and trying to keep an eye on five wee ones with bounds of energy.IMG_8492

The tulips have started to come into full bloom for the Istanbul Lale Festavali, or Istanbul Tulip Festival. Emirgan Park has had a re-do or two over the winter and their are new shiny playgrounds, outdoor gyms and some strange aquarium things around the place as well as an absolutely stunning array of tulips – hundreds of beds across the park.


The park is a completely different place today. Over winter there was hardly a person to be seen – a few teenage couples sneakily holding hands on the park benches, the occasional dogwalker, middle age men ‘jogging’, and a fair few veiled women with their toddlers – except myself running like a mad woman in shorts and a tomato-red face. Today its overflowing with families, groups of teenagers, school groups, couples, elderly groups; everyone wandering along the neat little paved paths, (security guards blowing their whistles every time someone dares step on a blade of immaculate, ever-so-inviting grass.)

The Istanbul Council plants over 11 million tulip bulbs around the city for the festival usually lasting throughout April. The tulip is a symbol of Istanbul since the Ottoman period – being brought over from Iran centuries before. I never realised how many colours and types there are! It’s understandable how they were the pokemon card of the 16th century

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Kartalkaya; Skiing in Turkey

I have a whole heap of renewed respect for my Ma and Pa (especially Dad since he is a snowboarder) skiing with two little kids back in the day. I’ve spent the past week playing mother duckling to the girls on the ski fields. T-bars, chairlifts, ski poles and snowploughs suddenly became a whole new challenge. (Three days of skiing on my own and no aches and pains, one hour of snowploughs with the girls and I’ve discovered leg muscles I didn’t know existed.) The girls had two weeks off for school holidays and for the second half we drove 3 hours East from Istanbul to Kartalkaya, Bolu. I couldn’t quite believe there would be a ski field, let alone snow to ski on as we were driving. 18 degrees, and not a mountain to be seen – even after parking the car at the bottom and jumping into a prebooked hotel car to drive us up. But suddenly, out of nowhere, appeared a whole heap of snow in a valley and a fairly impressive ski resort.

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We stayed in the Grand Kartal Hotel, a large all-inclusive that provided ski passes, three meals a day and all the sahlep, hot chocolate and mulled wine one might want. There was a warm swimming pool to kick around in after a long day’s skiing, and a sauna, spa and hamam which we didn’t take advantage of.

The slopes themselves were similar to NZ skiing. Nothing too difficult, but great for the girls as beginners. The first few days were very windy and I spent my time on the slopes closest to the hotel while the girls had lessons. The third day the wind dropped and I headed over the top to the other side of the mountain where a grand total of six skiiers and boarders had carved into the piste. It was pretty weird standing on the side of a sunny mountain at 12pm with only a couple of tracks in front of me, and not a sound to be heard. I think all in all there would’ve been about 300 people on the entire mountain skiing, and not many of them left the t-bar on the blue slope or the main chair lift. The other side had potential for some awesome off-piste skiing but it was pretty icy (and whipped up into lovely meringue peaks) and since I didn’t have a helmet, and there was absolutely no one around I decided to take it easy.

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The weather was pretty good, very windy for 4/5 days, but one day when the wind dropped and the sun was shining was absolutely fantastic. The Sunday was the busiest day of the week, I read somewhere that because of the proximity to Ankara and Istanbul many people come for the day, plus there are buses arranged by travel agencies the drop off early morning and return in the evening.


I have no idea of the costs involved, but I imagine its pricier than skiing in NZ. The hotels (Grand Kartal and Kartal) are all inclusive and supply the lift passes. I couldn’t work it out but there is actually a whole other side to the mountain with some good-looking pistes, which I think were all attached to an newer, fancier hotel directly opposite the Kartals. (Called Kayak World or something similar. Kayak means Ski in Turkish, how confusing.)

I think this was only my second time ever skiing without my family, I missed my folks a bit! There weren’t too many people my age staying at the resort – I think mainly because it’s pretty family orientated and there isn’t much of a apres-ski scene. I think there are a few other resorts around Turkey more well known but much busier.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I’m Still Here


This is a blurry picture of the first bridge across the Bosphorous in Istanbul that I took from a taxi. I haven’t taken ANY photos of Istanbul except that one, and this one of some of the buildings:


I will take a lot more over the next few weeks. Sam is coming, and so is my dear friend Liz and we’ll be tourists and I’ll take my camera everywhere, and I also got my phone working enough to take photos (hence the ‘vintage’ look.) Oh, and you should all thank Becca who kindly reminded me that I’ve been on hiatus.

I’ve been really busy though!

I’m learning Turkish through Ankara University’s Language School(TOMER) in the mornings, then running around with the girls in the afternoons, and trying to fit in a semi-social life and keep up with the latest episodes of Glee and get ready for the least Christmassy Christmas ever.

Update: Glee is not very good. Girls is equally addictive and soul-destroying and makes me want to yell at people. Game of Thrones is very good. True Blood is ok, but I think mainly because after 5 season I’m pretty invested in it. Boardwalk Empire is good. And Mad Men is no longer very good but I like looking at all the pretty 60sness. I’m looking for a new series to watch in my downtime, any suggestions? Muhteşem Yüzyıl is pretty good but entirely in Turkish so I get tired watching it. But oh, the intrigue of the Sultan Suleiman and his hareem! (You should all totes check it out – it’s played in 52 different countries!)

Anyway, so Turkish classes are going. I was going to say pretty well, but I don’t feel like I am any more capable of speaking Turkish than when I started. But I can write and spell now, and understand the grammar far better. I have a lot of vocab I need to learn, and I think next month I’ll just try and find a more conversation based course to do rather than an academic one. It is a good course but because I skipped the first level I struggle with the vocab more than I should. My teacher is awesome; she is this crazy Turkish girl with peroxide hair and very fashionable clothes who stops the class every thirty minutes for a cigarette break and has decided that me and Liz are her favourites. (Which means she uses us for every example in the class, and takes delight in making fun of Liz.) The other students are a mixture of Turkministan, Greek, Turkistan, Jordanian, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, and Morrocan. And then there is Liz (American girl who came and stayed with my Turkish family for a month and is here for a yearish on a music fellowship) and I who giggle too much and get away with answering in English rather than Turkish. I think a lot of the other students are learning so they can study and work here.

Monday night I had THAI FOOD. OH MY GOD, PROPER SPICY FOOD THAT DOESN’T HAVE TOMATOES IN IT. OR MINCE. I do like Turkish food, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think I’ve ever spent this long eating one kind of food before. Anyway, afterwards Liz invited me to a classical music concert, which I was a little unsure about. Years of studying classical music has led me to the conclusion that it is beautiful, and I really enjoy it, but quite often do not wish to sit in a draughty hall for two hours to fully appreciate it. But it was going to be Turkish classical music which was intriguing and without asking much more about it we went to the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall where it turned out the whirling dervishes were doing their thing in memorial of Rumi’s death. It’s a lovely venue, but wow, was I not prepared for how mesmerising the whirling is. Photos courtesy of Liz, but I don’t think a photo could ever capture how entrancing the sufi are.

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Other than that I haven’t been up to much that I can think of as being particularly interesting to talk about. I go out on Sunday nights because most of my friends have Mondays off, and going out usually involves going to bed at about 8 or 9am, which i appreciate because I never quite got used to the start-drinking-at-5, bed-by-11 thing in London. It’s usually pretty busy most nights in Taksim, and going out with locals means not spending a fortune in tourist bars. I still find the public transport a pain but don’t often resort to a taxi out of sheer stubborness. (I walked to school the other morning after my akbil card ran out of money and I couldn’t get a bus – it took an hour and a half.) (I got lost.) Walking is a bit of a novelty for most Istanbulites I’ve noticed – I get tooted at a lot and pavements here are for dogs to lie on, advertising boards to be placed in the middle of, or cars to park on.

It also rains New Zealand-style pretty much everyday but with less wind. I now own an umbrella. It is awesome, and I bought it from the oldest umbrella shop in London town, James Smith & Sons. Look at the foxy handle!


It’s also getting much colder. Down to 4-8 degrees most days. The family were going to go skiing for Christmas (the girls get time off school because of the many foreigners attending) but it had been unseasonally warm for this time of year and there isn’t enough snow on the fields in Bursa. Speaking of Christmas, it doesn’t feel at all like Christmas. not even a hint of Christmas flavour except for the big shopping malls dousing themselves in fairylights. The other night I peeked out the window and the neighbours had wrapped their pine tree in lights though so that felt kind of special. I’m not that fussed about Christmas, but it is one time of year I feel a bit homesick for family and friends. Though I do love London at Christmas. So pretty!!

Oh yeah, I went to London for a weekend to catch up with people, attempt to get my residency visa reinstated, and start my TESOL course. It was wonderful. I didn’t get my visa reinstated though so it looks like it will be holidays ever more. It felt so nice to be able to speak English and ask for directions, and know exactly where the bus was taking me, and be sarcastic and have pop culture references fly around with no confused faces. Also, I got to eat Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai, proper pizza, pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, avocado, flat whites, cider, good cheap red wine, porridge, and a number of other delightful things I’ve forgotten the taste of. So happy…

Last month was Kurban bayram, or Eid….. A cow was killed for the family on the farm, but we didn’t participate in the ceremony. I wouldn’t have known at all except that when we arrived the meat was all in pieces in four big bin bags on the kitchen floor – unexpected to say the least!

I spent the first few days with Sarah until the family came home and then we headed West to the farm they share with a few families. Horse riding, feeding the calf, and collecting eggs! A big breakfast on Saturday with the extended family included organic, homemade butter, cheeses, fresh milk, tomatoes, cucumbers and chillis from the garden, menemen (a tomato-egg dish), homemade peach jam, honey and fresh bread. Beef stew and rice for lunch followed by a new baklava that looks like a bird’s nest with pistachios in. Here are some pictures of the girls riding a horse with no protective gear on, and no saddle:

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Mmm, another brain dump post. I do apologise! I will try and do an nice orderly tourist-friendly post for next month after I’ve actually experienced being a tourist in Istanbul!

Merry Christmas to you all, love and öpücükler!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Too many words from Istanbul

I'm in Istanbul! I'm supposed to be in Cyprus but it turns out that just because a country controls half of another one against the wishes of the international community, does not make it part of that country. (i.e. I had no idea that (Northern) Cyprus was a semi autonomous state unto itself, and I'd have to go through visa control. Stupid visas. I'm a little over them! I'm still waiting on my residency, and because it's kurban bayram next week it's going to take another few weeks to process.

Anyway! I'm living with a wonderful family in a very affluent part of the city, next to a big park where I go running every couple of days and am teaching two super cute girls English. Mondays off again so I've been doing a little siteseeing (especially last Monday thanks to the lovely Bulent - a friend from the hotel - and his wife who showed me around Istanbul and spoilt me rotten) and catching up with friends I made in Bodrum over the summer.

Istanbul is a bit like someone took London and Madrid and shook the cities over the hills of Wellington and the Kapiti Coast. Actually, maybe not London because it isn't anywhere near as multicultural, but a really, really big city. The Bosphorous running through the middle is stunning, and Taksim (central city, Europa side) is a maze of alleyways and cobbled street. I haven't had much time to see any of the zillions of neighbourhoods, but hopefully I'll slowly see more. I've ended up containing myself to Istinye, Emirgan and Resitpasa Mahallar (around where I live) and Taksim, Sishane, Beyogulu in town. Sarah is here from tomorrow so we should get some siteseeing going over the next few days too!

Ohhh the weather outside if frightful. I think I was going to burst into song then, but it's the first time I've seen rain in five months! It's still fairly warm and it's nearly November (Winter is coming.) I felt a little Game of Thrones-ish then.Istanbul is seasonal, and it's nice - I like that for summer it was spectacular and sunny and hot everyday, with a chance of strong winds, and now it's jeans and tshirt weather and always quite comfortable. Not sure how winter will go but I know that I'm not missing all my winter clothes in London yet. Hopefully I'll get to pick them up mid-November so it won't be a problem.

I was thinking how Turkey is my kind of everyday life, yet it can be pretty different from NZ or London. There are things I miss, and things I don't even think about. The following is just a mind dump into a post so apologies. i could probably do some research but it's been so long since I did a proper post I figure you can just pretend this is an extra long email from me!

I could probably write and entire post on the food of Turkey. Even something as simple as breakfast is completely different. With the family gone for a week I'm going to the supermarket to buy cereal - I've been craving muesli, eggs, mushrooms, my normal breakfast foods! Breakfast here is set out on the table on little dishes by the housekeeper - sliced and peeled tomatoes and cucumber, bread, a selection of cheeses, maybe some jambon (veal ham), maybe a hard boiled egg, jam, olives, butter.

Normal lunch and dinner fair included rice and meat stuffed capsicums, many stews, maybe white beans in a tomato sauce, rice, pasta with white cheese (kind of like feta) and butter, okra (can't stand it), green beans, salads, this turnip/potato/carrot dish with fennel, stuffed vine leaves, this kind of finger sized spinach stuffed pastries, a lot of fish, and lots of yogurt.

Oh the sweets! The Turkish has a ridiculously sweet tooth. Becca this post is for you! Desserts of course there is baklava that we all know and love - a sticky syrup and nut pastry (my favourite is hazelnut)- and then there are these kind of small churro like things called tulamba which are also covered in syrup. Kunefe is a bigger sweet pastry thing with cheese in the middle which seems to be fried and covered in sugar syrup. (I can't handle this one.) There is a milk pudding, or rice pudding dessert, and of course halva made of semolina spices and sugar. Lokum is the ever famous Turkish Delight, starch and sugar with spices, flavourings and/or nuts which I actually got through all summer before having any in Turkey. Fruit platters of cherries, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, apricots, plums, honeydew melon, watermelon, figs, and grapes are standard at the end of dinner dependent on season. And Turkish icecream is a extra sticky and particularly nice!

The Turkish drink a huge amount of black tea which is made in a double boiler where you end up with a very strong hot tea concentrate and then a second pot of hot water which you dilute it with. The Turkish all like a LOT of sugar so I add none and get funny looks, and have seen some of the men in the cafeteria add up to seven or eight teaspoons in one tiny little cay cup. Of course there is the Turkish (or Greek) coffee we know overseas with the silt in the bottom, and then alcohol wise there are some fairly average wines. The Turkish love to drink raki in the evenings which is an aniseed liquor drunk with water and ice, and eaten with melon and cheese. There are also lots of vendors selling fresh orange or pomegranate juice.

They are all mad. This is what Sarah and I say to each other when everything gets a little too culturally different. But seriously, the Turkish people I have become acquainted with are extremely kind, generous, and hospitable. Relationship wise they seem to be very caring, affectionate, jealous, and incredibly possessive. Marriage and children are an expectation fairly young and I've met some girls who would have been ridiculously young mothers. Family is really important. I kind of knew this while working in Bodrum since half my Turkish friends send their wages back to their parents and seeing foreign girls navigating the whole family approval thing, but living with a Turkish family has highlighted it even more.

A lot of you have asked me about Turkey being an Islamic country, but I honestly don't notice it at all. As much as I would see in Spain amongst Catholics, or even the UK with Anglicans. There are mosques everywhere (though they probably couldn't compete with the churches of London) and the call to prayer is LOUD. I've seen far more headscarves in Istanbul than Bodrum (where they were almost non-existent to be honest) and most of the Turkish seem to drink (heavily.) No one eats pork, but a lot of people confess to having tried it butI don't know many people who go to mosque, and harking back to my university days when I actually did know what I was talking about I'd still argue that it is traditional conservatism in Turkey is stronger the further East you go and less about Islam than about ingrained cultural norms. I could be being naive about this, these are just my observances so far but its fairly complicated to explain.

Next week is kurban bayram as I said, which is a holiday based around the story of Abraham sacrificing his son to God, and God in his mercy changing his son into a lamb. Following this tradition Turkish households sacrifice an animal for a feast and excess meat is donated to charity. The last bayram celebrated the end of Ramadan and I didn't really notice anything in the way of religious celebration but it might be the circles I run in. Some of my friends stopped drinking during Ramadan, but I don't know anyone fasted during the day.

Oh man, this has turned into a novel. Sorry about the lack of photos! I'll try get some up over the next few days.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pamukkale and Hierapolis


This is a long overdue post but I guess that means it's been an awesome summer! In my last few days in Bodrum I jumped on a bus and headed to some of the tourists sites I'd been asked about all summer. Being me, I didn't do any research beforehand and went to Pamukkale over Ephesus (the more popular ancient city near) on the advice of friends. Very glad I did!
There is this ridiculously random site in Turkey in the Denizili Province called Pamukkale or 'Cotton Castle' when translated. By random I mean, in the middle of rolling dust and scrub covered hills is a white 'castle' of limestone terraces and hot spring water, topped with the ancient city of Hierapolis. I booked through the hotel and was picked up at the very early hour of 6am for a lift into Bodrum to the coaches which were taking approximately 100 Russian, French, Italian and English tourists to the site. A four hour bus ride with a brief stop for breakfast was made easier by the fact that I am small and can sleep anywhere. Apparently there was a presentation and talk about the area on the way, but I missed it.


Once the bus parked up at the top of the hill after a four hour drive I immediately disentangled myself from the group of tourists I'd arrived with and set off straight for the ruins of the city. Pamukkale was heaving with half-naked tourists (hilarious to watch) and the ruins were wonderfully hot and desolate, but peaceful. I actually ended up writing blog notes sitting on a umpteen thousand year old piece of marble that had fallen by the Necropolis road, pleasantly sunning myself while these awesome lizards baked on the tombstones and the call to prayer echoed around the valley below. Pretty special, especially as there was no one around except the lizards and hundreds of butterflies, birds and bees.
Anyway! The city is of Greco-Roman and Byzantine eras, rebuilt and expanded at different stages after various earthquakes. Famed for the sacred hot spring waters that flow through and believed to have healing powers, and the city worshipped the God Apollo, and Pluto (of the underworld, probably because of the natural gases that rose up around the city.) Some of the ruins of the Temple of Apollo have had a giant natural swimming pool form over them, and for the bargain price of 30TL you can swim with other tourists in a surreal moment where ancient, natural beauty meets heaving commercialism.
I spent a fair amount of time giggling at the mud because I'm awesome like that, but it had dried to this awesome crackle effect that had curled up like clay.
So pretty! You can only walk in certain places, and no shoes allowed so that the white calcium carbonate doesn't get muddied or damaged.
I paid 70TL for the daily excursion - they are advertised all over Bodrum and it was the cheapest and easiest way to get to Pamukkale but probably not the most efficient. If there are a group of you it'd be good to just hire a car and go because the excursion includes a particularly terrible example of 'traditional Turkish cuisine' (read extremely bad buffet Turkish cuisine) and a stop at a leather factory on the way home - which with the four hour ride each way made for a very long day.
I also caught the ferry over to Datca - absolutely beautiful but I forgot my camera. It felt very different to Bodrum and as soon as you get off the ferry you feel a million miles away from the crowds of Bodrum. I wandered through Knidos, another ancient city which was actually spectacularly placed (kinda felt like I was in lord of the Rings oddly.) Don't miss your ferry though! Because it only runs twice a day - once in the morning and once at night (and you'll have to stay the night like I did...)
I didn't really see as much as I liked of Bodrum - in summer it was a bit hard to handle because of the crowds and I was working but one day on our day off Elena and I stumbled upon one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - the Mausoleum of Halicarnasuss - the first mausoleum ever built. There isn't much left on the site since the British took away anything of significance to the British Museum, and the Knights Templar dismantled it in the first place to fortify the nearby St Peters Castle circa 1400AD
There's also this huge amphitheatre at the top of the hill overlooking Bodrum - it's still used today for concerts and plays! The view is wonderful - you can see St Peter's Castle in the background next to the harbour. Elena and I wandered through the back streets until we got to the water and then spent a merry afternoon in wandering around the castle. My favourite part was the glass exhibition showcasing all these very fragile and beautiful glass artifacts found in the various shipwrecks around the area.
And then of course we went to our favourite Bodrum fish restaurant - Trata - next to the fishmarket where you choose your fish, pay the monger then have the restaurant cook it up for a 5TL fee. Don't forget to choose some mezzes! We usually end up with cheese stuffed mushrooms, seaweed, smoke aubergine and peppers, and a yoghurt based dish of some sort. And fava of course! And later headed in to the Bodrum shops to try and haggle for the massively overpriced but awesome selection of fake handbags. I got a travel wallet and big leather tote and can now pretend I can afford real Hermes. (Though having arrived in Istanbul and now living in Istinye I've suddenly realised how many Turkish women can and do buy real Prada, Chanel, Gucci and Hermes.)
Anyway! How was that for a brain download. I'll try get you an update on Istanbul when I get a moment.