Turkish Family Vacation on the Bodrum Peninsula

I’m baaaaaack. Ok maybe that is a tad creepy – but I am back on the interwebz. Now at first I was a “tad bit miffed” (yes Kimber that is a shout out to you) that I was without internet, but then I came to accept it and quite frankly loved it. I really was able to just let my mind wander and really enjoy the piktoresk (picturesque) views that I was experiencing for free. I did come across internet for about 15 minutes on two random occasions and opening my inbox to 100+ emails and having many messages in whatsapp certainly put a smile on my face – thank you to all of you who wished me well on my travels (:

Map from the Underwater Archaeology Museum – I was super close to Greece!

My holiday wrap up (the short version)

– a good time was had by all 8 of us in the summer house (baba – host dad, aysel hanım – host mom, Özlem – host sister, Özge – host sister, Teyze – aunt, Cansu – cousin, Azusa – Japanese roommate and myself)

– many big bellied Turkish men were spotted

– the consumption of refrigerated figs equated to my body weight (my daily afternoon snack)

– Turkish balcony and garden cooking and eating was a daily event

– salty hair and a sun-kissed bod was had

– hills were run

– books were read

– thesis was worked on (shocking – I know)

– awkward moments were endured

– and memories were made

View of the Aegean from Host Family’s Summer Home

Figs = my most consumed food on vacation. How I have lived this long without having a refrigerated fresh fig is beyond me

the long version if you happened to be a tad bit in withdrawl of zee blog (cough cough – mi mums) or if you are bored and wanna read further – not all is covered but a fair amount.

Thursday

Thursday marked the start of my tatil (holiday – vacation) with my Turkish host family and all I knew at the start was that the Aegean Sea would be waiting for me at the end of a 12 hour long busride. 12 hour bus ride – yeah a bit much but with it an overnight bus and me being able to sleep basically anywhere I knew that the 12 hours would speed by and I would soon be getting blinded by bright sun and blue waters and I was definitely not mistaken. All I could think when we finally could seaside was “WOW” and “this looks a lot like Greece”. The PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) are world known for their coastal towns with white houses, purple flowers and views of the sea that are endless, but I don’t think as many people are aware that Turkey boasts these picturesque and sublime for painting towns too. Living on the sea is such a laid back lifestyle, I don’t blame my host dad for escaping for the entire summer to live down here either – for one thing the air is a great deal cleaner than that in Ankara and the hills make for good exercise – seems like a healthier lifestyle to me already (:

Friday

Friday morning when we got in we headed to the summer house and since my host mom had shared a few photos with me I had a tad bit of a hankering of what to expect, but seeing the real deal is just better. Sometimes a picture just can’t capture the entire essence of a place, but that’s ok because if pictures could no one would ever feel a need to travel. After enjoying a grand Turkish breakfast on the front porch we headed on down to the sea. The neighborhood runs a bus service to get people up and down the hill – while the walk down isn’t bad, the walk up sure is a doozy. Friday started my daily routine of chilling by the sea, sun-tanning, reading, going for a swim and listening to music. Sure other things happened, but I became like a dog with a predictable schedule. Just watching all the kids running around made for good smiles too.  Evenings were spent hanging around with the family (I got to meet another aunt, a cousin and the eldest daughter of my host parents). Great people and enjoying big Turkish dinners with 8 people around the table felt just right. Now my host mother was the only one fasting during Ramazan, but Ramazan didn’t end – initiating the beginning of Şeker Bayram (Sweet Holiday) until Saturday’s Sunset call to prayer. This meant that we would all wait around until we heard the firework go off before chowing down. I was a fan because it allowed the ability to fully watch the sunset. Not to mention after being in Turkey for almost 3 months I am adjusted to not eating until 8:30. In fact, we ate earlier during Ramazan since my host mother would break fast which was around 8-8:15. Dinner would conclude with dessert and of course there after copious amounts of Turkish tea were to be had and chilling in the swinging chair reading was to be done (hammocks still rank higher in my book though).

My daily view down on the docks

The docks where I soaked up the sun – this was in the early morning, by noon the place was buzzing with vacationers

Saturday

Saturday started my morning routine with my host father of getting up around 7:30 walking down to the sea going for a run and possibly a swim. The water was calm the sun was up and yet everyone seemed to have the same agenda of getting up early to do a little exercise – most were walking or swimming and then head home around 10 to partake in breakfast. I journeyed out on a good 7 mile run which started along the sea, but before I knew it I was on the other side of the port getting lost in the hills of neighborhoods and even ended up on the outskirts with dirt paths and barely traversed terrain. Saturday was also the morning that a cute Turkish lady called me “Marathon Girl” – I guess while I was out running Baba (Turkish dad) got around to telling all his swimming pals about me. Classic. After that it was breakfast, bathing suits on and heading back down to the docks for the day. Now while all of us “kids” headed down to the beach, Aysel Hanım (host mom) and Baba would stay back and chill at the summer house. When we came back it was always a surprise to see what Aysel Hanım had been cooking up all day. Saturday was probably the best, because when we returned it was to her making baklava. Gosh yes! My eyes were probably as big as saucers as I watched her roll out her homemade dough with her wooden rod. The woman has magic hands. If I didn’t love her already, that love was solidifed when I saw her making not one but 2 batches of baklava. Baklava is a common dessert that is made to celebrate Şeker Bayram. Dinner of course ensued and after that all of us ladies sat down and made yaprak şarma (stuffed wine leaves) together. Yes – I know how to turn a leaf into a vessel of goodness now – hopefully wine leaves can be found in the states because while these little guys are time consuming I just have to share the deliciousness with my family back home. That night when I fell asleep it really was a lights out type deal – not until I stirred the next morning with the sun creeping through the window did I realize how deep and soundly I had slept. I guess all the sun had its toll on me, but twas worth it.

Early stages of the baklava being made

Özlem kissing her wonderful mom

Sunday

Sunday was the actual celebration of the start of Şeker Bayram with lots of neighbors stopping by, tons of blessings being given, and all around happy people. Nothing to complain about when everyone is in good spirits. Baba and I nonetheless went down to the seaside for our morning exercise, mine of which was followed up by an interesting conversation with a Turkish lawyer. This guy was hilarious, knew absolutely no English, but somehow I figured out everything he was saying as long as he spoke slow. Naturally he like every other old Turkish man asked if there was a husband – these guys are obsessed with this question and labeling me as Turkish – I guess my bronzer skin though gives me a little bit more of a Turkish look – but no I am Amerikayalım (American). He was shocked when he found out I was American – I am to the point where I don’t know if it is a compliment or not. There were a few special dishes on the breakfast table (homemade börek and a few different dips) but my favorite of a homemade cherry preserve (usually not a fan of cherry things unless fresh, but this stuff was good) was there too. Also I copied my host mom by putting lemon in my tea and boy oh boy was it good. Definitely hit the spot – a burst of flavor for my taste buds to endure. That night we stayed up late chatting on the front porch – a funny conversation about arugula happened (host sister thought I said regular) haha and then we had the whole family trying to figure out what the word was in Turkish – the dictionary failed me. Finally we figured it out though. My host sister learned that there was a country called Jordan (and yes it is Jordan in Turkish too) and the host mother made sure that we all had a second dessert of ice-cream. If you want to make a diet (diyet yapmak – yes the literal translation in Turkish) then make sure that she is nowhere near your kitchen because it becomes about 20x harder. She is basically a personal chef – even her eldest who lives in Istanbul is soaking up as much of her mother’s cooking as she can – who can blame her though.  I just called her awesome and everyone was just like “yes” haha.

Where my run took me one day

The well earned views at the top of my 3 mile up hill run – needless to say the 3 miles back down were a lot easier

Found these little guys on one of my runs

Monday

I got up early to go for a run that led me way into the hills of the town and I actually ended up finding the dump (yes the garbage disposal place). Now this just proves that the eye sees what it wants to see, because I never think of garbage when on a luxurious holiday, but it is there nonetheless. This day surely left me a tad sore with running. I think I ran 3 miles up hills in all, but the views were well worth it and it made for my second adventure run while on vacation. Azusa and I decided to take a trip to the town of Bodrum which meant a relaxing 30 minute ride on a dolmuş. In Bodrum we checked out the castle that has an underwater archaeology museum in it. The museum showcased some of the shipwrecks in the Aegean and their recovered ruins. After the museum we went for lunch, I decided to have a salad so that later I could have a waffle. It seemed that all the little cafes were whipping up batches of waffles and while I love a hearty breakfast style waffle, I knew that a waffle topped with fresh fruit and ice-cream could not be passed up. So post lunch we did a little shopping and then found a café with a great view of the castle. The town was hopping with tourists who were staying many nights and with others who were only there for the day with their cruise ships docking in-port. Had a nice encounter with the Dönerci (man who sells Döner Kebabs) – who was super impressed that I knew Turkish as did a man who had himself a little leather shop. When Azusa was taking a picture of the sea a Turkish guy gave the thumbs up so I commented  “şaka şaka” – joke and he started to talk with us and when he found out I was American he said “ahhhh yes the Americans are so friendly” – I’ll take it. Going to tourist filled towns and shocking store owners with Turkish language skills that go beyond hello, goodbye and thank you is awesome – not to mention can score you a little bit more of a discount. This day was great because Azusa and I get along quite well – we even decided to switch music on the dolmuş ride back. To my shock and absolute amazement the songs she listened to were quite similar to what I have on my own playlist. No denying that I love a little bit of Flo Rida when running, Of Monsters and Men as my ringtone and Maroon 5 at anytime of day. I guess you could say the two of us are more alike than outsiders may presume. The girl has a wicked sense of humor which I can only imagine how great it is if I knew Japanese and she has no fear. I truly will miss my time with her but one day I will get her to visit me in Illinois and I will head on over to Japan.  This day also marked a first for me – the buying of cigarettes. Before you freak parentals they were not for me, but rather for the host sister. She called us right before we got back into town and asked us to. When we went into the store I simply asked “Winston Light sigara var mi?” and the guy said yes and handed them to us – now I probably sounded as American as possible with Winston Light prounced the American way and the rest in Turkish – the guy smiled though and we went on our way, back to the homestead where a delightful homemade dinner awaited us and exhaustion overtook me.

May have chased a peacock around the castle…

The bay through one of the castle’s windows

Simple Salad for Lunch

Waffle topped with Bananas, Peaches and Kiwis and Chocolate, Strawberry and Lemon Ice-Cream

View of Bodrum Castle while I was eating my waffle

Partner in Crime for the Day – Azusa

Beach scene in Bodrum

Boats of Bodrum

Tuesday

My last day in the sunny Aegean but I made sure to make the most of it. Woke up for a quick run to loosen up from yesterday’s crazy hills – definitely was needed and followed it up with a nice swim. Went home to enjoy breakfast with the host parents (the others were all asleep) and then got my bags packed before heading back down to the seaside for some last soaking in of the sun rays. Sadly enough our service bus driver had a fender bender – took off the license plate of another car – no bueno. But I can say that I was shocked that I didn’t witness more accidents on the steep, narrow pot-holed and cobble-stoned accident prone hills – not the place to learn how to drive stick and only the most able should even give it a try – many were burning rubber (that would not be I – I am too freaked to even drive stick out of a neighborhood and that is after having 4 – FOUR teachers – you people know who you are – they still walk our earth). After chatting with the family I learned that the cousin’s name Cansu means “Life Water” or the first watering of a plant – I thought this was beautiful – my sentimental moment. Also learned that the eldest host sister who works at the same language school I attend but at the Istanbul branch is the model in one of the photos in my Turkish workbook – super hysterical. After heading home and getting cleaned up we sat down to what was my last host mom cooked meal – she is at the summer home for another week so won’t return to Ankara before I set out for Istanbul ): but nonetheless the last meal was superb – saç boreği and it was made in the neighbor’s garden – great ending to a lovely family vacation.

Özge – host sister and I chilling down by the sea

Host mom preparing the Saç Boreği in the neighbor’s garden

The Aunt cooking the Saç Boreği on my last night – they were filled with eggplant

Wednesday

Got back into Ankara around 8:30am and was back to school by 9am – we mean business with the learning of Turkish. Already stocked up on figs – they are a second close to bananas as my most beloved fruit (and if you know me you know how serious a statement that is).

Cheers from Ankara – my home for only 1 more week

n

It’s True I Missed Turkey

After a full 2 days back in Turkey I can indeed say that I missed a few things about the country that has become my home. Here is a short list, but there are plenty more.

1) My crazy but awesome host mother – I can’t rant on long enough about how wonderful she is. Last night she was up to all hours cutting away at some crazy vegetable. She already made my favorite dessert for me and has been sure to serve me plenty of good home cooked Turkish food…about that diet…hmmmm may just have to wait till September.

2) Learning a bizarre but somehow useful Turkish word – learned that bamya means okra because that crazy said vegetable in #1 was okra. Bulls full of it in the kitchen.

3) The dining room table being used as a pseudo dehydrator – in the past it was mint, this week it is beans – she is drying them for the winter…if I understood correctly…

4) Realizing that I have my favorite Turkish teacher for my third and final course. She is on equal standing with my host mother of being pure awesome. Her mannerisms are fantastic and she knows how to explain things so that I can actually say “anladim = I understand)

5) Seeing all my classmates and friends – it was like a long time coming reunion.

6) Lost in translation – my phone doesn’t show Turkish characters – usually not a problem until someone sends me a message with a lot of Turkish characters as was the case today. One of the students I teach English to sent me a message but I only understood half of it – messaged her back to have her call me – this wouldn’t be a problem if I would have been able to hear her on the phone but there was a glitch and I couldn’t hear a darn thing. So there I am in the middle of traffic saying “Hello – Merhaba – Hello – Effendim – Hello” over and over with no dice for hearing a response. Got a few good lucks from passerbys too – all the while playing the game of frogger to get across the street. They say you shouldn’t drive on and talk on the phone – well you shouldn’t try to cross a busy Turkish street and talk on the phone either. Thankfully I was near the school and ran into the owner who called my student for me – he explained the story to her as I had just told him the problem and all was sorted out in quick Turkish fashion. But really how was I suppose to answer the phone to someone I am teaching English to, but is Turkish and I am an American in Turkey – Hello or Effendim –> really a more confusing question than I previously thought.

Now as I have already mentioned Ankara got hit by a heat wave, but magically the temps are down in the 80s again – so much more pleasurable. However, still hot and I still overheat when running in running tights – so I took things into my own hands and wore shorts today and ran in a park that I usually don’t run in – double whammy of the daredevil characteristic in me I suppose. The run was glorious – well minus the fact that the elevation of Turkey is higher than that of Illinois and I somehow realized the difference in oxygen – or maybe it was all the hills I was doing – either way I was a tad short of breathe  – but in the feel good give me more kinda way. So I got a few stares – maybe because I was the only person running or maybe because of the shorts – but either way I figure I will be stared at so I might as well be a few degrees cooler – Im over the no running in shorts thing – gone, gone and gone.

Cheers to a good month of August ahead

n

Secret Ovens for Turkish Pide

I just found out one of the most interesting things yet – and it’s all because I wanted to watch my host mom make pide (a traditional Turkish dish – pita topped with a mixture of lamb, tomatoes, onion, red pepper and spices). Little did I know I was only going to be able to watch her prepare the mixture and not actually bake it. People in the neighborhood prepare the topping at home and then take it to a restaurant in the neighborhood (right next door to our apartment building) and pay a small fee to use the traditional open fire oven. Now I was told you can make it in a “normal” oven but it just takes longer and is harder. I am completely fascinated by this. Not to mention dinner was delicious – wishing I could’ve eaten more. And it was the first time all 5 of us (host mother, father, sister and the 2 students) all ate together AND at the dinning room table. It currently was not covered in its typical drying mint. But, why I didn’t eat more  you may be wondering…

–> Insert warning here for a possible overshare of information

Well sadly me and the porcelain throne have been in fair company lately. Monday night (yes after my bad case of the Monday) I fell super ill and was up till about 4am puking my life away. Instead of my head resting on a pillow that night I was either in writhing pain on the bathroom floor or keeled over the toilet wanting to scream blasphemous words to the world around me.  Now being sick is no fun and super uncomfortable (literally, but also super uncomfortable in the social context), but when you are in an apartment with 4 other people and you know that all sounds in the bathroom echo because of the tile walls – it is just taken up a few more notches of embarrassment.  Not to mention the following morning I was swarmed by both my host mother and father being super concerned with what caused my illness – my answer –  “bilmiyorum” I don’t know and not because I didn’t know how to say it in Turkish but rather I really didn’t know what caused my body to hate me so much. Could have been bad water, bad food, heat exhaustion, a food allergy, maybe even something else… Well after their extreme concerns the dad let it be known that I was going to have to eat breakfast with him because he kept saying you will have no energy because you have nothing in your system – he was definitely right about that. So there I sat with my host father, still “discussing” my issues and eating bread and drinking tea. The only good thing of the entire situation was that by some grace of God that Tuesday was the one day that my class had been bumped up to start at 11 instead of 9 – I can’t express how grateful I was for those two extra hours.

While me and the porcelain throne have parted ways, I am still having stomach pains throughout the day and I have no clue why. I am trying to stick to tame foods and all that grandness, haven’t gone running and am drinking plenty of water, but still I feel like Aladin’s sword is piercing through me multiple times a day (Aladin did have a sword – right???).

Hopefully I figure out what’s wrong and soon – because as of now my face shoots into an expression of pure agony at the most inopportune moments – thinking I scared a poor lady on the walk home today….not to mention I teach tomorrow and Friday so don’t want to be wanting to curl up into a little ball when giving an English lesson – that would not be good.

Until I come across a better solution the fetus position will just have to be enough – I guess it doubles as a yoga position too (;

Post dinner I found myself in the living room with everyone else and the irony of the situation is enough to share – the father came across a TV show in English about Azusa’s home town of Kyoto in Japan – so there we were with me reading the subtitles when the dialogue was in Japanese, Azusa understanding the Japanese and the host dad and daughter watching happily along. All the while my host mother was being diligent about her evening prayers.

Definitely a good evening of bonding in the apartment.

Cheers to delicious meals but not to stomach troubles

n