Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First day of teaching...

I'm wrecked.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The best day ever!

So, yesterday we discovered that our lovely new flat had some issues. We woke up bright and early to go on our expedition to Kadikoy, only do discover we had no running water. No shower, no running taps, no toilet, nothing. Disaster. We left for the day and hoped that it might just be a fluke and sort itself out.

It didn't. So, I was forced to go over to a friend's apartment nearby to use her shower. It was funny because her bathroom is like a little tiled closet, and the shower is just attached to the bathroom wall and you bathe in the centre of the room. I put my shampoo and stuff in the sink, closed the lid to the toilet and showered right there in the middle of the tiny bathroom. Odd. The other funny thing was that at the moment, this friend doesn't have any curtains in her bedroom, and anyway, the only towel we own is like a large hand towel, so I had to dry off and get dressed in the front hall. It was a bit weird being in the nip in the entry to someone's dwelling, but she politely excused herself to give me a bit of privacy. But privacy or full shower or no, I was so happy to be clean!

This morning again, no water. No toilet flushing. Using bottled water to brush our teeth. Not good. I went to start my first day of teaching, leaving poor Richie to deal with this drama.

This afternoon we rang the friends of our landlord who are helping us get settled and they fixed the water for us after we text them to tell them our difficulty. I was sitting here on the computer when suddenly, their was a sound like rushing water coming from the bathroom. It was the toilet filling up. I dashed in to check it out, turned on the tap, and lo and behold! we had running water again. Now I love our apartment again, and I think we will live happily ever after, until there is a power outage, which is another common occurrence in Istanbul. Sigh.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Sunday outing...

Today we had the pleasure of a personal tour guide, a new teacher friend of mine from New Jersey. She has been in Istanbul for a few months now and has just that bit more experience that is so helpful when you're new in a place.

We began our day at the Karikoy ferry port, just about a 10 minute walk from our flat. While we waited to meet Maria, we ate some simit which we purchased from a street vendor. Simit is the Turkish equivalent of a bagel, and it tastes great. We took the ferry over to Kadikoy, which is on the Asian side of Istanbul. I have to say, I can't imagine a nicer start to a day: the freshness of being on the water, seagulls soaring over head diving for bread being thrown to them by ferry passangers, a beautiful view of Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya and the Blue mosque. It was cool too, to see all the tankers and big ships waiting in the Sea of Marmara just south of the city, waiting to pass through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea.

Then Maria showed us around the many streets of the Kadikoy neighborhood. There were amazing markets and tons of shops with clothes, shoes, all the other essentials of life. The vendors and shops displaying fresh fruits and veggies, fresh fish, olives, butchers and bakers were my favourite. The food just looks like it is dripping with flavour. It was so hard not to just buy everything I could see! Markets are noisy places here, and vendors are always calling to you, inviting you to look closer, saying 'yes please' and 'come on' and lots of things I can't understand because they're in Turkish, but it is really hard not to just go along with them and take whatever they offer!

In Kadikoy we also visited a Greek Orthodox church and caught the tail end of the mass. It was an absolutely beautiful church, and the chanting of the service created a very exotic atmosphere to the mass. It was interesting to see the difference in the Orthodox service, and funny to see some little old women in the pews apparently not paying too close of attention, chatting with each other while the priest said his prayers, etc. But they stood at all the right times, and must have been paying at least a little attention to the central action.

We also stopped by an Armenian Orthodox church and stood just outside to see a few minutes of their service. It was similar but different to the Greek mass we saw. We didn't want to intrude upon anyone, so we only stayed to observe for a minute before quietly slipping out of the courtyard.

(A little Catholic church or possibly monastery or something that we stumbled across. I think it was a church dedicated to Ss Peter and Paul. It was so hidden away, I'm surprised we saw it at all.)

Back on our side of the Bosphorus, Maria introduced us to a nearby market which runs on Sundays. It was quite an overwhelming experience. Since our fridge isn't currently working, and we don't really have all our kitchen odds and ends sorted out, we didn't actually buy anything, but it was good to see what was on offer, so hopefully next weekend it won't all be so intimidating.

There was amazing food to be bought, and all variety of odds and ends! Kitchen towels, underwear an bras, jeans, vegetables, fruits, olives, pickled foods, lovely fresh cheeses, fresh fish of all shapes and sizes, pirated DVDs, T-shirts, head scarves, slippers, little baby chicks (live ones), clothes pins, drying racks, sponges, all sorts of crazy stuff. And again, everyone is bustling, shouting at you to buy their goods, checking out the quality of what's on offer. One vendor gave us lots of samples of his 20 varieties of olives, and fresh made pickled cucumbers and cabbage. We protested because he just kept letting us try things, but he said these things were 'his garden' and he seemed pleased and proud to let us sample the goods. Again, with no fridge to store anything in, I have to wait till next week, but I will definitely go back and buy some of his gorgeous things next week.

Now we're back home, and I have to prepare for my first day meeting students tomorrow. Also, we are currently experiencing a 'typical' Istanbul water shortage. No water at all. This means no shower, but at least the toilet flushes. I hope it starts working soon, or I don't know what I'll do!

Friday, September 25, 2009

We found a flat!

Today we signed a lease on a flat! It is so cool and amazing, in a great part of town, safe, furnished, etc. We already moved some of our stuff over there this evening and will be leaving the hotel tomorrow morning. I am so excited to be getting out of the hotel and beginning our 'normal' life in Istanbul.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what its like. For anyone thinking of coming to visit us here, you really have to. We're in a great area, full of more bars, cafes, and restaurants you could count, a night life that just goes on and on and on, and it is beautiful and historic too. Amazing. This year is just off to such a great start.

The place is fully furnished and has some pretty cool decorations. The owner is an artist, and some of her paintings are on the wall. It definitely has an arty touch. We've been told that right around us, in the Tunel area, it is full of artists studios and such things. I think we'll meet some interesting people around here.

This is our little loft bedroom. We have a double bed and in the extra nook we have a single bed. It's a pretty small, and not at all private guest room, but still. Its better than a sleeping bag on the floor!

Our little kitchen is down a few stairs. We have a giant American size fridge, a microwave, washing machine and dishwasher. This will be the first time I've ever had a dishwasher! Our new oven is being delivered later today. Our stove is a two ring hot plate sort of thing. It will take some getting used to, but this seems to be a feature of many apartments in Istanbul.

This is the view from our little courtyard. Its a bit plain at the moment, but in the spring it will be nice to spruce it up with some plants and maybe a little table and chairs or something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

First day of orientation

I started my job orientation today. It was an interesting experience, and I'm not sure what this year will be like in terms of work, but I feel optimistic but also a little bit cautious.

From the teachers who have taught at this university last year, it sounds like the students are very interesting, which is a polite term for crazy, unruly and spoiled. But I think the staff will be really great to work with and after previous teaching experiences I've had, I'm not too worried.

I gained another small glimpse into Turkish culture today at orientation. The man who was giving the morning presentations, one of our assistant directors for the English program, was a former army man, and as is the other assistant director. They were really lovely and helpful in talking about Turkish culture and how our future students might respond to certain things.

For one thing, they talked about ways to help students save face in the classroom while implementing classroom discipline. They said that if you are openly critical, Turkish students can be easily offended and become confrontational. So it is best to deal with issues privately so that students don't have to try and prove anything in front of their peers. Also, Turks are very proud of their culture and language and don't like to be told they can't use Turkish in their class, especially by a foreign teacher. However, it seems that if you show an interest in Turkish culture and language, students will really warm to that, and it will really help with creating positive rapport.

Overall, I am really optimistic about this year, but at the same time, I feel that I'm pretty realistic in my expectations. My main goals are to become a better teacher, to enjoy interacting with at least some of my students, and to learn as much about Turkish culture and language as I can. So, tomorrow is day two of orientation. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

First trip to Asia

Yesterday Richie and I took our first trip to Asia! It is so easy and cheap to travel from the Asian to European side of Istanbul. Tokens for the ferry are only 1.50 TL, which is about €0.75. And I really thought it would take a while to cross the river, but I think it was only about ten minutes!

We traveled from Sultanahmet, just near the Galata bridge, over to Uskudar, one of the areas or neighborhoods of the Asian side of the city. It was a lot different from where we're staying now. It was a pretty quiet residential area, and there didn't seem to be loads of things to do. We did walk through a pretty impressive fish market though. As soon as I get a kitchen to cook in, I would definitely travel to Asia and back again to buy these fresh fish!

After much wandering, and a little of getting lost, we stopped for a cup of tea in a tea garden/cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. Later we stopped for another of Istanbul's lovely fish sandwich specialties (balik ekmek). The cafe was right on the water, and we had a lovely view. It seems that on every bit of space available at waters edge and on every bridge, there are tons of men fishing. They have buckets and pitchers and plastic cups full of sparkling little fish and rosy pink prawns. I'd love to join them sometime, but it is clearly a man's activity. I haven't seen a women at it yet.

Another thing I have enjoyed observing is the various headscarf fashions on displayed by women in the city. Maybe sometime I will be brave and ask some of them if I can take their picture, but that will have to wait until my Turkish is a lot better. I've seen women in the full burka, women in a more traditional countryside style headscarf, and women and girls with beautiful, colourful, stylishly arranged scarves. They look fabulous. I've been told that some headscarf styles make a political statement, some are purely a fashion statement, and some are a combination of the two. I hope to eventually be schooled in the art of wearing one and to try it out to see how I look in one.

Anyway, after our Uskudar experience, as we were heading to catch the return ferry to Sultanahmet, we were caught in the middle of four mosques, all sounding the Muslim call to prayer.

Traditionally, Muslims pray five set times a day, and a singer called a muezzin recites a prayer from the minaret of the mosque to remind the people that its time to pray. This prayer is called the adhan. Where we were, there were four mosques all in sight, and it was as if the four muezzins were competing with each other, pausing to allow the next to sing a verse before continuing. It is quite a remarkable sound. I think for anyone, it is a great opportunity to be brought back from your own private thoughts or whatever activities you're doing, and just to be in the moment and wake up to what is going on around you. In Istanbul, I think things are quite different from what I've heard this prayer time is like in other Muslim countries. Life just goes on and people just continue, walking, shopping, eating, drinking. I'm looking forward to learning more about Turkish people's experience of religion in the future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today was the best day ever! We saw the most amazing things. Our day started out with traditional Turkish breakfast in the hotel with a fellow teacher of mine who is staying next door to us in the hotel at the moment. He's lovely and we had a great chat about travel and culture, while eating our olives, bread, fresh sliced cucumber and tomatoes, with some over-steeped sweet tea to wash it down.

Fortified for a days activity, we first headed south down Istiklal Caddesi, a huge and bustling shopping street about five times longer than Grafton Street in Dublin, to Galata Tower. This tower was part of the fortifications the Genoese built in the city. This area of Istanbul was once the European part of the city, as opposed to the Ottoman part which centred around the Golden Horn (Halic). From here we enjoyed an amazing panoramic view of everything. I just can't believe how big the city is! It seems to go on forever in every direction!

Then we crossed the Galata Bridge over to Sultanahmet, the historic centre of Istanbul. Here we saw the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia in Greek, Church of the Divine Wisdom in English). It was first a Byzantine church and then a mosque. Now it's a museum. We also saw the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, a beautiful park, small cobbled streets lined with traditional wooden Ottoman style houses. Numerous times throughout the day there was heavy rain and even a thunder storm, followed by more sun and heat. We ate grilled corn next to a water fountain in a park between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya. Later we rested in a comfy little out of the way place to drink a few cups of Turkish tea in delicate glass tea cups and smoked a nargile (water pipe with apple soaked tobacco). It was great to take a break and absorb all the experiences of the day. Then we headed back to the Galata Bridge, pushing our way through the crowded footpaths next to the ferry docks and grabbed a couple of fresh grilled fish sandwiches. They cost about €2 and were absolutely delicious. Then we crossed the bridge and hid from a sudden downpour beneath some building scaffolding and waited out a short thunder storm with some locals.

A glimpse of Aya Sofya.

Some traditional Ottoman style houses.

The Sublime Porte, former residence of the Grand Viziers.

Aya Sofya.

The Blue Mosque.

An ancient Egyptian obelisk, located in the former Hippodrome, a Roman chariot racing course.

Finally we made it back to our hotel to rest for a while. For dinner we headed to some nearby side streets full of small bars, meyhanes, and cafes. We had our first sampling of raki, which is Turkey's national drink. Its an anisse flavoured spirit, which you drink mixed with water. We went for mezelar again, because you get such beautiful variety. Tonight we had a couple of different patlican (eggplant/aubergine) dishes, and I just can't believe how good they were. Dripping with flavour, melting on your tongue, smoky, creamy, sweet, beautiful. This place is a food lover's paradise. Now, we're safely tucked in bed to rest up for our next adventure, with full stomachs and the sound of nearby Turkish party music ringing in our ears.