Sunday, October 9, 2011

Finally...IS-TAN-BUL!!!

We made it, finally we are in IS-TAN-BUL!!!...aaand this giant city is already trying to swallow us with its size and run-run-in hurry life style. Sorry for not being able to write anything since our arrival. My last visit here was almost six years ago, when my father passed away. It is so nice to be back, enjoy the city and the loved ones.

Susan seems to enjoy our visit. Most of our days start with a "big", I mean "BIG" breakfast and family time...I mean "BIG" family :)  My four sisters, brother-in-laws, nieces, nephew(s), cousins, they all are doing their best to be with us, to be in touch with us and to show their hospitality in the best way they possibly can. It makes both of us so happy and feel welcomed.

Except two days with rain (today is the second one) we went out everyday and took many photos and videos (we need to convert those videos, will post them later on). Two weeks is certainly not enough to see and get to know Istanbul, but I think we are on a right path. Its a good start for Susan. I'm saying this based on her reactions: "many more trips to Istanbul/Turkey are on the way." Of course it puts a big smile on my face.

I'm sure Susan will tell you her impression of Istanbul and Turks; well, I have already mentioned it, "I'm in love" with Istanbul, so I may not be able to be objective about it. So, I won't tell you too much about it and bore you to death! I will post a few photos and videos with small caption lines next to them. Enjoy.
Mom with her accordion.
Mom and Dad, 50 years ago












Last week, when all the sisters were together, my Mom played Circassian music with her accordion and we, sisters, "tried" to do Circassian folk dance for her. Here is a photo of my mom with her accordion. She was so happy to have her five (and the new one, Susan) daughters all together. My mom is one of the Circassian Turks. Circassians are people of the Northern Caucasus (south of today's Russia). They were migrated to Turkey in the course of the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the 19th century, especially after the Russian-Circassian war of 1862. There are two million Circassians (also known as Adyghe or Cherkess) in Turkey.

Metro station we use the most, sea gulls shown on columns
One of the nicest parts of Istanbul is Bogazi├ži (Bosphorus) shore line. Istanbul is the only city in the world that is built on two continents. Two large bridges connect Europe and Asia. Also, since 2004 they are working on a very important underwater tube-tunnel project to connect Europe and Asia. It will be the world's deepest immersed tube-tunnel. 13.6 kilometers (8.5 miles) under the sea crossing. Earthquake-proofed immersed tube is placed down to 60 meters (197 feet) below sea level. Its scheduled to open in 2013.

A passage with nice Cafes, in Beyoglu
One of many street musicians of Istanbul



Before we left San Antonio, Susan and I have promised to each other to walk as often and long as we can. So far we kept our promise. Istanbul is a huge city, so we have to use public transportation (mostly metro) all the time, but we start walking once we arrive to the area we are interested. We both love it. It gives us chance to take many photos and videos of the streets, buildings, people, street musicians etc. Yesterday we walked more than 3 hours, almost non-stop. Here are some of the photos/videos of the buildings and street musicians of Beyoglu. There are all kinds of musicians on the streets and metros of Istanbul, from violin to santur players, from saxophone players to traditional Turkish saz musicians...you name it.
Susan with her happy smile.


Istanbul silhouette, during boat trip, October 5th, 2011











Its raining today. It gave us an opportunity to stay at home with my Mom (Bedriye) and one of my sisters (Sacide), and also catching up with organizing our photos, and writing our blogs "to you". Susan is working on her blog post right now...window is open, we are listening to the sound of the rain and wind...shear curtains are moving softly...I can hear my Mom and sister Sacide's voices from kitchen, they are chit-chatting...Life is good...better with loved ones!


A week later in Istanbul... so much (too much!) to show and tell

Aya Sophia (Saint Sophia)
Stained glass and column inside Blue Mosque
Walkway around courtyard of Blue Mosque
Ok, this is how it is: We've been in a swim of family coming and going, amazing meals, many Metro rides/ bus rides/ dolmus rides, taxi rides, long fast walks all taking us to and from incredible places, and we fall into bed late and rise to dive into the swim again.  There hasn't seemed to be a minute to go through the hundreds of photos we've taken, much less to compose a paragraph or two with properly placed images to illustrate any small part of what we've seen or done or eaten or whom we've laughed with or hugged or kissed (at least once on each cheek, sometimes back again to the first, accompanied by hugs and sweet greetings or goodbyes).
Inside Center Dome of Blue Mosque
I feel like I need to apologize for the time lapse since our first post from Istanbul. Plus, I feel a tiny bit hopeless about ever being able to show even a fraction of what all has been thrilling me about this place and the people I'm meeting. I hope you'll accept just a few photos for now and perhaps more can trickle out later.
San Antonio Church - a special place for Ugur as a child.  Who knew she would move to San Antonio, TX as an adult?
View from a window atop Galata Tower
Galata Tower
Looking out from Galata Tower... Marmara Sea and Topkapi Palace in the background.
Ugur trying to let me photograph past her... :) A very narrow balcony with people squeezing past makes for wobbly knees!
Topkapi Palace as viewed from Galata Tower
Family dinner at sister Nilgun's house. Every dish was indescribably scrumptious.
Ugur and Bedriye at the Metro
Cleanest subway in the world, I betcha.
The Metro stations are beautiful.  Murals, gorgeous mosaics and sparkling clean.  Polite, quiet passengers.   My mind boggles. 
My overall impression of Istanbul is a prosperous, stunning, happy place.  Almost no discernable poverty- far less than at home in Texas, from what I could see.  I get a feeling of well-being and optimism and happiness. Many people strolling arm-in-arm along the Bosphorus, the deep blue sea that separates the two halves of the city- the European side from the Asian side.

We leave for San Antonio the day after tomorrow. My emotions are all over the map about that.  It means we are going back to a sweet life with family and friends at home, but it also means leaving behind my new family here in Istanbul.  Thank goodness for Skype! I know I'm going to want to stay in close contact with them all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Istanbul!

San Antonio before takeoff
Arrival in Istanbul Ataturk Airport- Nilgun, Nadir and Nadide
We left San Antonio at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday morning on a Delta flight, spent about four hours at JFK, then boarded a Turkish Airlines' beautiful 747 that took us all the way in to Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.  Turkish Airlines won the #1 favorite airlines of all European airlines this year- for good reason: Amazing food, terrific service and lots of little extras-slipper-socks, eye masks, lip balm, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, real pillows and blankets, and an in-flight console with an amazing array of movies, games, applications... too much to actually take advantage of, and real headphones vs. those plugs you usually get.  If we weren't at the very back of  the plane I'd have thought we were in first class.
We were met in Istanbul by two of Ugur's four sisters, Nilgun and Nadide, and Nilgun's husband, Nadir. Nadir did some fast, but expert driving through Istanbul, mostly along the shore of the Bosphorus to Ugur's mom's home toward the northern end of it, near Fatih Bridge, or "Second Bridge." The Bosphorus separates the two halves of Istanbul and is the far east edge of Europe and the far west edge of Asia. After looking at so many photos of this beautiful city, it's incredible to finally BE HERE.

Bosphorus Shore and Fatih Bridge


Fruit stand near Mom's house
I leaned out the car window and took this photo just a block from our destination.  

Breakfast on balcony first morning
Every meal has been so beautiful I want to photograph it first, but I'll just post this one of our breakfast on the balcony... it was as scrumptious as it looks.

Nilgun, Nadide, Ugur and I took a bus to Sultan Ahmet Square to see the Blue Mosque, Saint Sophia Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, stopping to have tea at various lovely places along the way. Ugur is doing a terrific job of keeping me in the conversation by translating everything being said. I've been working at learning a little Turkish, but the operating word here is "little."  I hope to know a LOT more by my next trip back.

Blue Mosque - Five out of six minarets

Entrance of Grand Bazaar
Lemonade seller outside Grand Bazaar


Galata Tower - Built 1348

Istanbul University - Established 1453 by Fatih the Conqueror

Rumeli Castle and Fatih Bridge

It rained all yesterday and it allowed me to sleep off much of my jet lag.  After dinner, though, we all had more energy and the rain had stopped, so Nadide and Ugur and I took off for another long walk. We took a taxi for part of our journey and then walked along the shore by Rumelihisari, or Rumeli Castle.  It was built  in 1452 in a surprising three months and allowed Fatih Sultan Mehmet Koprusu to become Fatih the Conqueror by ending the Byzantium era and taking Constantinople to become today's Istanbul.  We got as far on our walk as the Bebek area- Beautiful! Can't wait to go back in the daytime to see more of it.  You're going to laugh, but we sat on the balcony of the Starbucks there in Bebek, and had our limonata and cake and tea, overlooking the beautiful Bosphorus in a perfect cool breeze.  It has to be the best Starbucks location ever. 

Simit: sesame-encrusted circle bread... a new favorite for Susan

Our view from Mom's Balcony

Susan's eating ripe figs from this tree by the balcony...mmmm... 
Bedriye  -   Mom



Bora, Sacide, Bedriye, Nadide, Susan, Ugur
Ugur's sister Nilgun and brother-in-law Nadir and their daughters Neslihan and Aslihan were here for a while, but had to go before this picture was taken. They are returning today. Her eldest sister, Halide and Ugur's niece, Hande, are arriving in a couple of days from Samsun, Ugur's birthplace many hours east of here. Her cousin, Nimet, arrived last night.  It's being a wonderful reunion for their family. Ugur is being "firmly requested" to not let this much time go by before her next visit. 
I've felt warmly welcomed into this sweet, loving family. It feels very, very good.