Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Day We Became Celebrities In A Little Corner Of East Turkey - An Afternoon In A School




"Helllo, helllo." Giggles follow and we're really not sure which which little person down below us in the school yard is saying it - because now, all their heads are down and they're scurrying off. 
Doğansu and Süphan Dağı, East Turkey
Doğansu and Süphan Dağı
This is the village of Doğansu, close to the town of Patnos in Ağrı, East Turkey. Some of the people we did our East Turkey road trip with work at the local school and we've stayed overnight with one of the couples so that we can visit the school. It appears the pupils have been told of the visit of foreigners (a first for them?) and there's much excitement in the school yard. 

We can't see faces, they're all looking down, but kids are huddled around the base of the teachers' apartments below our balcony. One will brave a 'helllo' and then it's giggles before they run off and the next little huddle of people arrive.
Doğansu, Patnos, Ağrı, East Turkey
Doğansu, near Patnos, Ağrı
Because, at this school, the teachers live on site - those are the apartments on the left of this photo. The school, to the right, is only separated from the apartments by the school yard. Apart from the ever-present Süphan Dağı, Turkey's second highest mountain, and a few single storey dwellings, this school is the only prominent feature for miles around. It's an all girls school and the girls stay overnight during the week and go home at weekends.

"Is that because this school is a boarding school for more wealthy families or something," I ask. 
"Noooo, not at all. In winter, everywhere is white. The snow is so deep that the roads are impassible so the kids have to stay here. They live miles around."

And, when you look around you, you do wonder where all these kids come from and where they disappear off to when they're not in school. A lot of kids and a lot of landscape...not a lot of houses...
Doğansu, Ağrı, East Turkey
Doğansu
...as you can see. This is the view from the front balcony of our friends' apartment. So vast, lonely and beautiful for us. We're travelling, exploring Turkey, having new adventures. Meanwhile, our friends are working here and miss their home, Fethiye. We're a long way from the sea in Doğansu.

But back to our school experience. We're going into the school late morning. Someone will knock for us; and eventually the knock comes. We answer the door to a nervous but excited looking girl, "You can come now," she blurts out...and then runs off. This girl turns out to be one of the star pupils in our friend's English class and it's obvious she's been practising 'you can come now' all morning...but then to use the English language to two, real life English people...well, we're not sure who was the most overwhelmed; the kids or us.
School Children In Doğansu, Ağrı, East Turkey
The girl in the grey jumper at the front is the one who came to knock for us
We are now the celebrities of Doğansu; or at least of the school. We can't move. We sit down and the girls sit with us. We walk around and the girls follow us. Occasionally, one is brave enough to do a "What is your name," and then they burst into fits of giggles, cheeks blushing. All just a great experience for them and for us.

Back in English class, the girls have been given some questions to ask us but none of the questions are forthcoming. They're just giggling, gazing at us, tongue-tied.

"Ahhh, okay," says our friend, the teacher, smiling. "We'll just send Barry and Julia to the other English class next door, if you're not going to ask them anything."
"Noooooo."

Not allowed to leave but no questions, either. There's a lovely relationship between the girls and their teacher - a very relaxed classroom - and, eventually, she coaxes a few questions from some of the girls. The telling one is, "How many brothers and sisters do you have?" They take it in turns to go round the class:

"My name is _____ and I have 9 brothers and sisters."
"My name is _____ and I have 12 brothers and sisters."
"My name is _____ and I have 11 brothers and sisters."
"My name is Barry and I have 1 brother."
"My name is Julia and I have no brothers and sisters."
"Maşallah," says one of the girls, almost involuntarily, and they all burst into fits of laughter.

Guess they can't imagine life as part of a small family. And then the girls say they want to show us the art studio. "Hocam (my teacher), you must come, too. You keep saying you are going to come and you've still not come to see our work."
Children's Artwork, Doğansu, Agrı, East Turkey
The art studio - there's talent, here
And now it's the turn of the two English visitors and the 'hoca' to be stuck for words. These are young girls and some of their artwork is truly astounding. Framed paintings and collages line the walls of the corridors and it's only now we realise that it's all the work of the pupils.

"I've been meaning to come and see their work for so long and we just never get the time because we're all caught up with our own subjects. I'm amazed," says our friend. And so are we. 

The Turkish curriculum is a packed one but these girls have time on their hands. They're living in school during the week and also a lot of weekends, too. While the situation is far from ideal, they can express themselves, here, and be truly creative.
Kids Art, Doğansu, Ağrı, East Turkey
Art everywhere
And so it is that there are some exceptionally talented artists and musicians, too. The music room has a lot of old, bedraggled instruments, but they're well used and there's a dedicated music teacher getting the best from them.

It's Friday afternoon and the end of the school week arrives. Minibuses pull into the car park and kids pile into them; they're all waving through the windows. After the last minibus leaves, there's still a smattering of girls left.

"They've not sent enough minibuses again," says our friend. "The girls will have to stay here."
"They don't look too concerned by it."
"Nah. Help look after your 13 brothers and sisters for the weekend or paint? Sometimes they like to stay behind; they'll just do their homework or go back to the art room." 

(This post is a little ode from a former teacher - me - to all the teachers out there in Turkey - especially our friends - doing such a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, and to all the kids who benefit from their hard work.)  

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Thinking Of Izmir... And Pondering When To Go Back




Today, 9th September, is the day that Izmir commemorates Independence Day. So, as we're thinking all things Izmir, and trying to work out when we can fit in a little return visit some time in the not-too-distant future, we thought we'd have a look back at previous visits. Because Izmir is a city that me and Barry shouldn't really have fallen for. It's big, there's lots of concrete and high rise buildings, and that's just not our scene...but we fell for Izmir big time. Why? For lots of reasons...

Because of the Izmir street food

Yes, there is absolutely no need to go hungry in Izmir and it's not going to cost you a fortune, either. If you're on a budget, like we always are, you can fill your boots (well okay, your belly) and still have kuruş and lira left over to do the other things you want to do.
Izmir Street Food
A feast of Izmir street food
But for us, as long as there's good food to be had - and it's not a difficult task to find good food in Turkey - we're happy. Everywhere you go in Izmir city centre, you'll see carts selling simit (or gevrek, as the Izmirli call it) and kumru; small cobs filled with white cheese, tomato and a crispy green chilli. And then there are the foods we swooned over:
  • Midye dolma - You can get stuffed mussels in most coastal towns and cities in Turkey but they are particularly big and meaty in Izmir.
  • Çeşme Kumrusu - Well, we weren't allowed to leave the city without trying this famous street food! Not for the dieters but, hey, if you're out and about exploring a city, who cares about the calorie count. Certainly not us.
  • Nohutlu pilav - Ahh, our hike up to Kadifekale was rewarded with fabulous views over the city, a wander around the castle ruins and a surprisingly tasty tub of chickpeas and rice topped with roast chicken and pickled chillies.
  • Söğüş - And then we discovered söğüş; a cold 'kebab' of lamb's cheek, tongue and brain. Omit any of the three mentioned if you like - but, for us, there was no way we were doing things by halves. Click any of the links above to see what we thought of our foodie delights.
Because of historical Izmir 
Yes, Izmir is a city of concrete, high rise apartments and buildings, but amongst all that is clues to the past. We trudged uphill (very steeply, I might add) to Kadifekale
Izmir's lonely agora
I explored the Agora and, bizarrely, had the whole place to myself. Spooky but amazing all at the same time. Digs are ongoing, here. Another reason to return to see what's changed. And in the old, crowded, pedestrianised streets that make up Kemeraltı, there's the covered bazaar, Kızlarağası Hanı. Food galore around here and also, Izmir's famous fincanda pişen Türk kahvesi.

Asansör gave us views along a coastal strip of the city, as well as a refreshing beer (well, we had just walked it there) and the story of how the lift came into existence. The steepness of the hills around here, no wonder someone saw fit to construct a lift! 
Izmir Saat Kulesi (Clock Tower)
Izmir Saat Kulesi
And of course, there's the famous Izmir Saat Kulesi. This clock tower appears on just about every Turkey tourism poster that advertises the Izmir region. 

Because of Alsancak
We love Alsancak, packed with narrow streets full of bars and inexpensive eateries. We've stayed here on both of our visits to Izmir. We loved the street market that suddenly popped up one Sunday morning, we love the easy stroll to the breezy seashore, and in summer, we love that people just sit out on the grass at night. You can see this in the photo post we did about Izmir at sunset.
Summer Nights In Izmir
Summer nights in Izmir
This city is a city that puts a smile on your face. And, as with any other city, it's going to take many more visits before we can say we really know it. We've barely started - so much to see (and feel) of the city itself and then there's the whole Izmir region. Virgin territory for us...as is much of the Aegean coast for that matter. Hmm, think we need to start doing some planning.

Because of people
The links above are just a few of things we've got up to when we've been in Izmir. But it's not just buildings and scenery that make a city special for us. It's the atmosphere; the feel. People make that atmosphere. For us, it's people that make Izmir, that make us want to keep going back there...and we hope to be back soon!

If you fancy a little visit to this great city then check out Izmir Hotels On Booking.com

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Fethiye In September - It's All Happening Here




It's strange how often this happens, but as soon as September hits Fethiye, it's like the weather gods suddenly jump up and reach for the 'weather change' button. We're still basking but the temperatures are more comfortable. The pleasing September breezes kick in and, all of a sudden, everyone feels like they can move around comfortably again and actually function in a normal manner.

And so maybe this is why so many events start to take place from now on. Organisers, and those taking part in events, regain energy lost over the hotter summer months and, if you don't want to miss out on anything in particular, it's a case of keeping your eyes peeled and keeping the diary up to date. AND there's also our Fethiye Events Calendar, to give you (and us) a bit of assistance.

Fethiye Events Calendar

And, if you click into our events calendar any time in the next couple of weeks or so, this is the view you'll see. As well as sunrise and sunset times and market days, the blue highlighted strips are what's going on in and around Fethiye.

Fethiye in September - What's On?

  • Beach Football Competition in Çalış - September 6-7-8
  • Fethiyespor home match vs Ofspor A.Ş - September 14
  • The fabulous Fethiye Classical Music Festival - September 17-18-19-20
  • European Under 22 Beach Volleyball Championships in Çalış - September 18-19-20-21
  • Fethiyespor home match v Konya Anadolu Selçukspor - September 28
At any time, we are adding to our events calendar. As soon as we see something that's going on, it goes on here. And the great thing about our events calendar is we can add lots of detail, too. All you need to do is click into the event and you'll get details of times and places, maps where possible and links to the relevant website where applicable. And if you're coming to Fethiye in a different month, you can scroll through to that month to see what's going on, too.

There's lots more you can do with our calendar, but we'll not go through all that again because we've done it before. To get full benefit from its features, you can read our post about how to use our Fethiye and Turkey Events Calendar
Fethiye Events Calendar
And if you want to see what else is going on in Fethiye (and other major events in Turkey) this photo, above, is in our sidebar on the left of the page. Click into that whenever you like. Or you can view the listings now by clicking this link: Fethiye and Turkey Events Calendar. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Lake Van & Akdamar Island: When All Is Not Quite What You Envisaged




Tourism posters for Turkey; we've all seen them: Ölüdeniz from above with its deserted lagoon and golden sands, the pristine white travertines of Pamukkale and not a soul to be seen, the Library of Celsus at Ephesus and not a soul to be seen, hot air balloons gliding silently over the enchanting rock formations of Cappadocia and not a soul to be seen...and the lonely ruins of the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross; a view from above with the island stretching out into the waters of Van Gölü, the snow-capped mountains and spring wildflowers in the distance...and not a soul to be seen.
Gevaş, Lake Van
Waiting for the boat at Gevaş - a beautifully turquoise Lake Van
And we all know how, well, it's not really like that is it? People; there's always people around the real life versions of these iconic sights and I don't know why I thought Van and the island of Akdamar would be any different; especially on a Sunday. Sunday is when people all over Turkey play out...and they play out in Van, too.

So the dolmuş drops us off at a stony car park in Gevaş and the driver points to where we need to wait for the boat. Now, if you remember from our journey from Patnos to Lake Van, I am absolutely bursting to go to the loo. It's not just a case of crossing my legs and being a tad on the uncomfortable side. I'm at the point where I'm thinking I'm not going to be able to get off the dolmuş without being able to hold on any longer. And I'm thinking there'll be no loo anywhere because we're in a remote corner of Turkey.

So, imagine our surprise when we see scores of seats, a small bufe selling snacks, a bar - you can get a beer here, people, while you wait for your boat...and a long row of wooden cabins fitted with showers, changing rooms and pristinely clean toilets! Oh my life. Poor Barry was abandoned; left standing with rucksacks, laptops, tablet, camera as I hurtled towards the toilets. The WC gods were definitely on my side that day! 
Lake Van To Akdamar Island
Scenes along the shores of Van Gölü as we cross to Akdamar Island
There's a good sized crowd of us waiting for the boat and people are in good spirits. A sunny day quickly turns cloudy but no one seems to mind; and we're now realising that this little trip is quite a popular one to do. We've passed shiny new hotels en route and it seems people camp here in warmer weather, too, hence the showers and WC. There's a 'feel good' feeling in the air.

Van Gölü is very calm as we chug along on the 30 minute journey to Akdamar. The clouds roll in and the scenery becomes brooding - it's beautiful. I can't quite believe we're here. To have seen Ishak Paşa Sarayı, the Armenian ruins at Ani and now Akdamar. What a whirlwind. And really, that's why we're still doing these blog posts, one year on from our trip. Just so much to take in and think about. 
Akdamar Island and the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross
Akdamar Island and the Armenian Cathedral of the Holy Cross
And then we get our first sight of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross as the boat approaches the jetty. We see lots of moving dots, too. People. My lonely island image, that I've seen so many times in the tourist board posters, crushed. Ah well, real life and all that. Ignore me.This is blissful scenery, the rain has started to fall, we've got backpacks with us (we're on our way back to Fethiye) and we really don't care. Look at this place! 
Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Akdamar, Lake Van, East Turkey
Cathedral of the Holy Cross
People are picnicking, taking photographs, entering the cathedral, wandering...and we do the same. The Cathedral of the Holy Cross was built in the early 10th Century by Armenian architect, Trdat Mendet (known also as Manuel). Apparently, he also built the cathedral at Ani - you can see the resemblance. Inside the tiny cathedral, there are faded frescoes but it's very dark and my camera at the time didn't have the capability of capturing decent photos. 

Fortunately, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is more famous for the carvings of biblical scenes in the stonework of the exterior walls. This is the reason most people come to visit here - and it's these we find ourselves trying to decipher. Middle right photo - we worked out David with his sling and Goliath standing over him. We were a bit stumped after that...but apparently, there are scenes of Adam and Eve and Jonah with the whale. 

Although The Cathedral of the Holy Cross is now a museum, it is still a sacred site and many people take the time to stop and light candles (top middle photo).
Gravestones, Akdamar Island, Van, East Turkey
Gravestones on Akdamar Island
There are also still many gravestones dotted about the grounds of the cathedral - even though there are lots of people around on this damp, cloudy Sunday, it's still tranquil. A place for quiet reflection...
Lake Van Views From Akdamar Island
Views across Van Gölü from Akdamar Island
Well, when this is your setting, it's no difficult task losing yourself in all that's around you. There's a steep hill to climb - the hill that would give us the views seen in the tourist board posters. I want that photo - I want to see that scene in real life - but this is real life - we've got luggage - the rain is now falling steady and hard - we've had 17 days travelling first to Eskişehir, then to Ankara. We took an overnight train from Ankara to Erzurum (an amazing journey) and there began our East Turkey adventure. It's time to get ourselves back to Van and get ready to go to the airport for our journey back home to Fethiye... 

Akdamar Island - Useful Information
  • We travelled to Akdamar Island in spring; apparently, the best time to visit this area of East Turkey because of the wildflowers and greenery.
  • Boats sail from Gevaş to Akdamar regularly and the crossing takes around 30 minutes.
  • Entrance to the island was 3 TL (May 2013) or free with a Müzekart.
  • There is a regular dolmuş from Van to Gevaş and also from Tatvan to Gevaş. We went from Van to Gevaş and the journey was around 40 minutes.
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