Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Sunday, February 23, 2014

More Craziness Last Night

This past week, the internet censorship law came into effect in Turkey.  I thought there might be another protest this weekend and there was.  Last night I was in my room and I started hearing the familiar pop of firecrackers (which protesters throw at the police).  A little before 9PM I went out and just a couple of blocks away there was a protest in progress.  It seemed more organized than the one a couple of weeks ago because there were banners, signs, and organized chanting.  There were overturned dumpsters in the street and people were covering up their noses and mouths because of tear gas.  Some people had gas masks.  I got some video of it.  Up a block or so away there was a police van with a water cannon.  People were throwing bottles and fireworks at it, and the police were responding with water cannon and tear gas.  After a tear gas canister landed near me, I decided I had seen enough.  Tear gas is nasty stuff.

Here are some pictures of the aftermath this morning:

One of the things that was spraypainted is "AKP = Party of Hungry Dogs".  They got rid of this stuff pretty quickly this morning.

I got my Iranian visa this week so I am all set because none of the other places that I am going have a requirement to get a visa in advance.    Right now my plans are (roughly) to leave Istanbul next weekend (since my class finishes this week and our test is Friday).  From Istanbul I will head across the Sea of Marmara to Bandırma, and take a train to Selçuk which is near Ephesus.  From there I will head to Denizli which is near Pamukkale.  Then Ankara for a couple of days, then a slow two day train trip to Kars in the far northeast corner of Turkey.  Fortunately, in Turkey, a first class sleeper compartment is nice - and cheap too.  Then Georgia and Armenia, then back into Turkey, then traveling along the black sea coast, and then the southeastern part of Turkey (Diyarbakır, Mardin, Lake Van) before going to Iran.  I see that Lufthansa has a service from Tehran to Frankfurt and so right now I am thinking that, before going to Iran, I will buy a one way ticket to Frankfurt on Lufthansa so that I don't have to pay cash for it in Iran (because of sanctions, my ATM and credit cards won't work in Iran so I have to take all the cash I need there in US$ or Euros.).

One day this week, some of us went over to Kadıköy (a nice area on the Asian side of the city) after class and had lunch over there.  One of my classmates just got a job teaching English here and she was relating a hilarious story about the school where she is working now.  They are sending some of the students to work at a Pizza Hut somewhere in Texas to improve their English.  Texas has a really bad image outside of the United States.  For one thing, everybody outside of the U.S. knows Texas as the state that George W. Bush came from.   I said that I think people will be try to speak Spanish to the Turkish students because most of them probably look kind of like they could be hispanic.  To say nothing of the kind of English they will pick up.

We also had a class lunch (Iskender kebab) on Friday, with our teacher, near Taksim, not too far from where we have class.
Class lunch

I'm looking forward to getting out of this town and being on the road again.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Waiting for my Visa

Last weekend I got my Iranian visa number from the visa agency I was working with and they told me that I could go ahead and apply to the Iranian consulate in Istanbul for a visa.  The consulate is open between 8:30 AM and 11:30 AM Monday to Friday, which means missing class (since class is from 9:00 AM to 12:45 PM).  I asked my teacher what would be the best day to miss last week and she said Thursday.

So first thing on Thursday morning, I went to the Iranian consulate in Istanbul to apply for my visa.  The day before I worked out an itinerary in some detail (Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd, Esfahan, Shiraz / Persepolis) because I figured that they might interview me.  In the end it was quite straightforward and friendly (though expensive).  When they opened the doors to the consulate (about 15 minutes late) the eight or so people who were queued outside filed in and took a number.  I waited maybe half an hour.  When my number came up, they told me that I simply had to walk across the street to a bank, where the Iranian consulate has an account, and pay 180 euros to get my visa.  So across the street I went.  They would not take a credit card so I had to go about a block to an ATM that dispenses euros (in addition to Turkish lira and US dollars).  I got the euros, went back to the first bank, and paid.  Then I went back to the consulate.  They took my passport and gave me a receipt for it, and said that I can pick up my passport with the visa this coming Tuesday.  I only missed two hours of class.

This week there was some nice warm springlike weather in Istanbul (at the same time that DC was having a big snowstorm), so I took some long walks.  Thursday afternoon I did some more exploring of Cihangir.

On Friday afternoon I walked  across the Golden Horn to the old city and went to the spice market (in Turkish it's called Mısır Çarşısı which means Egyptian market) and then to the Sülemaniye mosque.  After the mosque I kept walking to an area called Fatih, which is one of the most religious areas of Istanbul.  I just wanted to see what a fundamentalist neighborhood looks like.  There wasn't really much to see there, except that almost all of the women have headscarves, and I don't think I saw any restaurants that looked like they were serving alcohol.  The strangest thing there was a store selling wedding dresses.  I wasn't taking pictures of it; I simply had my camera in my hand, not even pointing at the store, when someone working there came out of the front door and told me to put my camera away.  Then I noticed the "no photography" signs in the windows.  I don't understand what they are so sensitive about.

Cheese in the spice bazaar

Pastırma (pastrami)

Just outside the spice bazaar

Sülemaniye mosque

Sülemaniye mosque

Sülemaniye mosque

Sülemaniye mosque

Sülemaniye mosque

Sülemaniye mosque

Valens aqueduct

Yesterday afternoon I took the ferry over to Kadıköy, a neighborhood on the Asian side that seems very progressive and fun.  Walking to Kabataş to catch the ferry to Kadıköy, I saw the rainbow steps that were written about here.  There are lots of fish restaurants, bars, and pubs in Kadıköy - very different from Fatih.  My host told me that at night it's like a big party over there.  I will have to go over there one evening.

Seafood market in Kadıköy.  That's sea urchin on the right.

Part of the row of fish restaurants in Kadıköy.


More olives

Grape leaves

More fish

Vegetable market

Turkish coffee in Kadıköy.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Internet Censorship Protests in Istanbul

The parliament in Turkey has passed a law that allows the telecom authority in Turkey to order web sites to be blocked without a court order.  On Saturday there were protests against this law, and the protests spread to Cihangir, the Istanbul neighborhood where I am staying.  I went out to get something to eat Saturday night.  I had been hearing some fireworks (which apparently the protesters were using). Just a few blocks from the apartment I encountered these scenes that I was able to capture on my phone.

After people started moving back down hill (towards me) I thought it would be prudent to duck in someplace indoors quickly, which I did - the Sultanahmet Köftecici in Cihangir.  I ordered dinner and watched events unfold outside.  Right outside the restaurant, a dumpster was turned over and set on fire.  Very soon afterwards, a phalanx of riot police, in gas masks and helmets, arrived.  There were also reporters wearing gas masks and standing right behind the police.  The restaurant is on a corner and some of the protesters had gone around the corner after coming down the hill.  The police were standing on two sides of the restaurant, firing tear gas around the corner at the protesters.  While all this was going on, customers were sitting there eating, and more customers even came in to eat.  Across the street there is a kebap place where people go to eat and to drink tea and coffee, and people were still sitting outdoors there.  Today one of my classmates told me that he was over there, and stayed there until a tear gas cannister landed at his feet.  Normal life going on while all this was happening was pretty weird.

After things started getting a bit more intense, with rocks occasionally hitting the window, the restaurant herded the customers upstairs and turned out the lights.  We stayed up there a good half hour or so while the police came in with water cannon and pushed the protesters further away.  After I didn't see any more police, I paid my bill and went back to the apartment, stepping around the improvised barricades that had been built out of trash and rocks.  The coughing you hear in these videos is from teargas.  It affected all of us.  It made me cough a lot.

The remaining protesters had moved down to the end of my street, half a block away.  I just went into the store across the street, bought a few beers, and went back up to the apartment.

What the street looked like immediately afterward.

The next morning I took a walk around.   There was quite a bit of graffiti, but not a lot of property damage, except to banks.  I guess nobody likes banks.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

First Week of Class

Turkish class started on Tuesday morning this week at 9:00 AM.  I'm in class Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM until 12:45 PM for the next three weeks.  Usually after class, some of us students go and get lunch somewhere cheap.  There are maybe 15 of us in the beginning Turkish class, and we are a mix of nationalities.  We have some Syrians, a Libyan, a couple of Germans, a few Brits (a Scot, an English woman, a British-Jordanian dual national), a Dutch guy, a Polish woman.  I'm forgetting some I'm sure.  There are a mix of occupations.  There are a couple of journalists, an artist, someone who works with the Turkish community in Germany, and people who work in the oil industry.

There is a lot of studying required to stay on top of everything, so usually after class I come back to my room, do homework, and study.  Learning the vocabulary requires a lot of rote memorization, much more than if I were learning something like French or German, which has common roots and many similar words with similar meanings.  To help myself learn I decided to make flash cards with index cards.  The problem is finding index cards here.  Apparently, they are not well known here.  Maybe they are not generally well known in Europe because my classmates do not know what they are either, as I found out when I was complaining to them about not being able to find them.  After much searching around in stores that sell notebooks and such I found some index cards earlier this week.  The store had one package of them and they cost 10.50 TL (which is almost $5 US - not cheap).  I used those up pretty quickly.  Today I found a fancy stationery store that sells larger packages of them a little cheaper.

On the theme of trying to find things in stores, another thing I was having trouble finding was a sewing kit.  One of the pairs of quick try trousers that I bought at REI is not holding up so well (probably from the constant washing, since I only have four changes of clothes) so I needed to repair them.  At home I would go to CVS or Target.  Here, drug stores sell only drugs, and supermarkets do not sell these kinds of things either.  There is no equivalent (at least in the city) to large discount stores like Wal-Mart or Target.  Eventually I found a little store that sells an assortment of junk (cheap glassware, cheap plastic toys, etc.) that had a few sewing kits.

Today it was nice to have a day off.  I took the boat over to Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city, mostly just for the boat ride.  It takes about 10 - 15 minutes to get there from the European side, probably longer sometimes, because there is a lot of traffic going through the Bosphorus.  These boats are essentially like city buses.  People use them to get around the city.  The fare is the same as the bus and they use the same ticketing system as the other public transportation.  I came back to the European side on the train.  Last year they finally completed and opened Marmaray, the rail tunnel under the Bosphorus.  On the train it takes just a little over 5 minutes to go from one continent to the other.
Salep - a hot winter drink made from orchid tubers.  Good!

Selling simit (bread rings with sesame seeds on them) to the fishermen on the bridge.

I did some walking around the old city after getting back to Europe from Asia.  One of the places I went was the Arasta Bazaar which is a market adjoining the Blue Mosque.  One of the places I stopped by was Jennifer's Hamam, a store that sells really nice bath towels and other bath related things.  It's owned by a Canadian woman from Alberta.  She was there and we talked a bit.  She's been here for eight years, after living in Thailand before coming to Turkey.

Chestnut vendor

Cats in a cemetery

A sultan's tomb

In a tea garden

Shoe shine guy outside the tea garden

In the blue mosque

In the blue mosque

In the blue mosque

The Aya Sofya

The blue mosque (from the Arasta Bazaar)

In the Arasta Bazaar