A Travellerspoint blog

December 2012

Ayvalik, Turkey

We arrived last night after an easy crossing despite warnings about high seas. The whole trip took about nine hours with the bus to Balikisir and then Ayvalik. After a lukewarm reception at nine in the evening, we moved from Taksiyaris Guest House to a newly renovated place around the corner which we seem to have to ourselves. Ayvalik is a cute, if somewhat disheveled old town of stone houses and tile roofs, many of which are in various states of disrepair, though a number of them are slowly being renovated by Istanbulis. They are buying up old places for a summer seaside getaway. By car you could probably make it in about four hours.


The seaside promenade is a nice place to stroll,


while the narrow cobblestone streets run up a steep hill to a wooded grassy area with goats and chickens roaming freely.



There is a small expat community here, mostly Brits, and we gave Ahmed's, wife, Kathleen, a call. He apparently had already spoken to her, and she seemed quite happy to hear from us. We had lunch, and then she took us to her house. It was quite a large place, about 130 years old, and she is still working on parts of it. We shared travel stories with her, and she told us about her time teaching English in China in the 90's, quite different than our experience. She also told us a fair bit about her relationship with Ahmed, who it turns out, is Bipolar. The meds he takes only control it partially. Perhaps that is why he has had so many different jobs. Kathleen spends part of the summer in England since Ayvalik gets too hot for her, but she worries about leaving Ahmed alone. It seemed to us that her relationship with him is quite rocky, understandable, given his mental health problems. She is encouraging him to spend time with his family in Pakistan, which is where his doctor is.

It was enjoyable to spend the better part of an afternoon with a fellow English speaker, but it was hard for us to understand exactly why she settled in Ayvalik. It seems a lonely existence in a town with marginal infrastructure, and a small number of foreigners. Now, she says, it is impossible for foreigners to buy property as a law was passed preventing them from doing so. She is concerned as to how this will affect property values, as a good deal of her money is tied up in the house.

Posted by jonshapiro 12:43 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)


We arrived yesterday after an easy flight from Basel, and the bad weather seems to have followed us. We are staying in Sultanamet, the old city, which is full of tourists from all over the world, and feels very cosmopolitan, a bit like New York, but with tiny alleys and winding streets that help keep the traffic down. Many of the city's most famous sites are within easy walking distance. We have already been to the Hagia Sofia, which more than lived up to billing.




As did the Blue Mosque.




Tulips, which are native to Turkey, not Holland, are blooming everywhere, and the streets are full of kebap and crepe vendors, both cheap and good, though the restaurants in this area are somewhat pricey. We spent part of the afternoon sitting in one of the ubiquitous tea houses, or rather just outside of one, in a kerosene heated area covered with clear plastic which more or less kept us dry. We preferred that to sitting inside, because of the smoke from so many people toking up on nargileh, filled with sweet Turkish tobacco. We sat next to, and then chatted with a young Turkish couple, after we overheard the woman giving her boyfriend an English lesson. They were a delight to talk to, like many of the Turks we have met thus far, quite out going and jokey. For example, earlier we were buying some Turkish pastry, and the owner was joking with another foreigner that his sweets were better than Viagra for increasing energy and sex. I can see why. It was, just possibly, the best piece of pastry I have ever had, filo dough, pistachios, and honey. Nanette and I battled it out to see who would get the last bite.

After apple tea, we were off to the Grand Bazaar. Hectic, but it was more pleasant than in Marrakesh because no traffic is allowed within the crowded shopping district. Although there are touts in Istanbul, especially in the touristy sections, they are less pushy than in the big cities of Morocco.

We have been to the archeological museum, which was a little like the Egyptian section of the Met, but on a much larger scale. It was hard to take it all in, though we spent several hours there, with Greek, Roman, Trojan and Hittite objects, some more than 5000 years old. One particularly impressive sarcophagus, named Alexander and dating from 500BC, had very intricate battle and hunting scenes carved on its marble exterior. The piece de la resistance,as it were.

Detail from Alexander Sarcophgus

Park Scenes in Sultanamet Near the Museum

Just now, I am sitting in the breakfast room of our rather funky Tulip Guesthouse, gazing over the Bosphorus toward the Asian side of the city. The sun is out, and the tankers moving through the straights at a steady clip reflect the light of the late afternoon sun, as do the buildings on the opposite shore. There are hills, and even low mountains in the distance. Closer in, a section of the old wall of the city is visible, and a white lighthouse, long and thin, like the minarets of the mosques, sits adjacent to the straight. The jumble of buildings immediately in front, comes towards me from all angles and colors. There is the mustard yellow of the Metropolis Hostel, with its black spiral staircase running up to the roof deck, and the salmon, brown, and light grey of the pointy stucco building to the left. Seagulls careen and squawk over its ramshackle metal roof.


As a double exclamation point, two bright red tankers steam up toward the Sea of Marmara.


Our amiable and chatty host, Martine, who is often to be found in this room, is a Kurd from northeast Anatolia. He grew up on a sheep farm, and then was the first in his family to get educated. He now manages three hostels in town, including Tulip. We have also met his younger brother, a college student, of whom he is fiercely protective. His relationship with his parents, on the other hand, seems rather distant. He has a Turkish girlfriend, who is getting a Phd in economics. She wants to be a professor, but although he has not yet told her, he wants her to stay at home and have babies.

He indicates things have changed for the better under Erdogen's rule, though there is still a lot of prejudice against Kurds. This is exacerbated by the separatist PKK, whose members periodically commit terrorist acts. He has nothing good to say about Ataturk, whom he says, murdered thousands of Kurds.
We have spent a number of pleasant hours talking to him, as he has traveled widely and is knowledgable about history, though he is obviously quite traditional in certain ways.

We have spent the past few days exploring the city and enjoying the people, including a visit to Istanbul Modern, a relatively new museum, which reflects the thriving art scene here. We also took the ferry to Uskudar, on the Asian side, from the Eminonu pier, a 20 minute ride across the Bosphorus. From there, we walked to a hillside park, full of tulips and pansies of all colors. At the top, there was a teahouse and restaurant with expansive views of one of the bridges across the straight, and the buildings on both shores.


After a nice respite with time to admire the view, we continued back down to the waterfront until we came to a non-touristy neighborhood, with small cafes, several ice cream shops, and a quite wonderful art gallery.


We also noticed an old synagogue, though it was boarded up and unused for many years. Stopping for ice cream, we talked to Fatima and Fozimet, two sisters of indeterminate age, who spoke fluent English. Their father had owned a barge and delivered water to other ships. For many years they had both worked in the family business, but eventually, after he died, they sold the barge and opened the shop. Both are avid tennis players, and hope to visit New York in order to go to the Open to see the tennis championships.

We returned on the same ferry, and dined in a rather upscale place in the old city, not far from our hostel. The restaurant was located over a series of subterranean rooms, built by the Roman emperor, Justinian, about 300 AD. We were shown an entrance in the back, and spent a few minutes exploring after dinner. Many parts of Sultanamet are built on even older walls and ruins.

The sense of history here is almost breathtaking in its scope. Greek, Roman, European, Ottoman, Arabic, and even Asian influences and objects can be found, and of course the city, at different periods of time, has been home to both Christians and Moslems, even some Jews.

Yesterday, we took a long walk along a different stretch of waterfront to another ferry dock, where we picked up our tickets for the ferry that crosses the Sea of Marmara. We will later make our way to the small Aegean town of Ayvalik. On the way back it started raining hard again, and we got soaked, but we made it to a crowded teahouse near the Grand Bazaar. There, we ran into Ahmed, who we had briefly met at our guest guest house. A most interesting man in his 60's, originally from Peshawar Pakistan, he spent ten years teaching physics in various colleges around Boston. He has also lived in many places in the Middle East, including, Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Oman, always teaching physics in English. He said he never got a permanent position in the states because there were issues with his green card, although he now has a US passport. After spending two years in Oman, separated from his wife and son who stayed in the US, she divorced him,despite the fact that he was supporting them. He ended up in Crete where he met his present girlfriend, and they now own a house in, you guessed it, Ayvalik. He encouraged us to look her up when we arrived. He was on his way to Boston to visit friends, and then see his son in New York. He told us all of this, while explaining some of the finer points of quantum mechanics in a way that we could actually understand it.

Today started out dark and dreary, but we took the tram and the new underground funicular to the top of Beyo─člu, in a now fashionable part of town. We did not ascend the Galata Tower, built in the late 15th century, but continued back down a wide shopping street near the old funicular tracks. Blissfully, there was no vehicular traffic amidst the Turkish eateries, and many US clothing stores. We then walked across the bridge to Eminonu, which by now was full of its daily quota of fishermen casting off into into the wicked currents of the straight. The bridge is a multistoried affair, one level of which has many fish restaurants and sandwich shops, some of which are quite a bargain. They all compete for your business as you stroll past. The trick seems to be not to make up your mind too quickly so you can see who offers the best price.

Eminonu Bridge with Galata Tower in Background

Another Beautiful Mosque near Bridge

The high point of the day was a two hour cruise up the Bosphorus, past Uskudar, and three major bridges, weaving in between the tankers. The sun came
out for a while, and we could see both shorelines lined with impressive houses, old and new. Some were renovated, others dilapidated, and old cemeteries clung to the steeply wooded hills behind them. Castles were also to be seen here and there. Like so many things in this ancient city, it was a hodgepodge of of styles and character.


I am once again back in the breakfast room with a view. The brick red Arcadia Hellas, steams toward the Black Sea. I hope tomorrow will prove a fair day because we make our crossing of the Sea of Marmara, and we are both prone to seasickness.

Yours Truly, with The Founder of Modern Turkey

Posted by jonshapiro 09:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges buildings people cities_postcards Comments (2)

At The Farm in Wangen

The weather here is much like early Spring in upstate New York. We have only had glimpses of the snowy high mountains in the distance, because many days have been cloudy, chilly, and rainy. We have been helping out with the renovation work, such as grouting and painting, which is fine, particularly given the damp weather.

Joachim and his brother in our yet to be finished bathroom.

Most nights we ate dinner with Peter and his family, as well as Antonette and Joachim in the farmhouse next door. Peter is hoping that the barn will be ready enough for them to move in a few weeks, as they have to vacate the farmhouse so the new owners can move in. It will take much longer for Joachim and Antonette as they are doing most of the work by themselves.

Peter is a kind of larger than life character, a bit like Falstaff, always eating, drinking and laughing. It is a bit dangerous to ask for food and drink in his house, as he will always bring six times the amount you need. In fact you don't even have to ask.

From Left to Right: Peter, Lissie, Max, Joachim, Antonette, Nanette's Arm

A much better picture of Max

Peter was a kind of ne'er do well in his youth,quite rebellious and always challenging authority. As a teenager, he moved to Lindau in nearby Bavaria, because the school system there was somewhat looser and more tolerant. He now owns a successful architectural firm in Wangen with several employees. Joachim was also a rebel as a kid, and his parents sent him off to boarding school from age 11-16, not so different from yours truely. It seems that the three of us have a fair amount in common, though both of them are more than ten years younger than I.

One cloudy day, he took us on a tour of Lindau, which is on an island in Lake Constance. Now it is a charming resort town with many old buildings. We went on to cross the Austrian border, no passports needed, and walked around a different side of the very large lake, similar to Lake George.

Lindau harbor and old building. You can see why they call it the Bodensee.

Not to be outdone Wangen too, has its charms.

Wangen on market day.

When we came back, we helped Antonette make spatzle, a local cheese, egg, and noodle concoction, very much a group project. Antonette and then Joachim's daughter, managed to drop the batter on the floor two times because of the lack of counter space, but, no matter, we ate it any way.

Antonette is putting the spatzle back in the pot after it fell on the floor

Yesterday, I went with Antonette, Joachim, Lissie, her son Max, and a friend, for a hike in the Icetobel. It is called that because it is a deep gorge with a series of water falls, and tends to hold onto ice and snow late into the year. It did not disappoint on this day. We hiked for about 1 and 1/2 hours in a cold rain that turned to snow at the end. Glad to get back to the car, we hunted for a restaurant that was open in the late afternoon. I had a typical sausage, noodle, and lentil dish, good, but heavy, as is a lot of the food here.

Today we awoke to about three inches of snow. I guess the Shapiro's have brought their weather with them. Our plan was to go walking in the high mountains, but that was put on hold. Instead we went to a nearby castle and then for some heavenly pastry. A good time was had by all.

View from the top of the castle

The grand pastry and teahouse

Posted by jonshapiro 09:35 Archived in Germany Tagged people food buildings_postcards Comments (1)

On to Wangen, (pronounced V) Germany

We left Tafaroute on a narrow, serpentine track through the mountains with huge drop offs most of the way back to Agadir. There we dropped off our daughter Mia, and boyfriend Dan, in front of a grand taxi stand where they made their way to Casablanca and Fez. We headed back to Taroudant to return the car and spend another night with Abdel. It was nice to get back to a place that seemed slightly familiar, and the maize of alleys did not seem quite as intimidating. We noted how friendly people seemed. Perhaps some of them recognized us from before? We retured to Marrakesh the next day by grand taxi, much shorter than the bus, albeit more expensive because we paid for extra seats to have more room. This time we stayed right in town in a cozy riad, Bleu and D'orange, which was, not surprisingly, French run and owned.

After Nanette enjoyed a massage and pedicure at a nearby, but rather upscale spa, we left the next afternoon for the airport. The plan was to fly to Basel, Switzerland, and spend one night there before taking the train to Friedrichshafen, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in southern Germany. There, we would be met by our friends Antonette and Joachim, who we met in China in 2008, and they would bring us to their farm in Wangen.

Ah, the best laid plans. We arrived at the airport more than two hours early, but nothing was posted about our flight and the departure time came and went. No one seemed to know anything about it, though we noticed a number of cancellations, which only increased our anxiety. There was nothing to do but wait. Finally, after another two hours, they posted our gate number and we assumed we would leave shortly, only to be told that we would have to wait yet another hour before being told when our flight would depart. And so we sat down on the floor in the small departure area as all the seats were occupied. We happened to sit next to two Swiss girls, though one was from Ethiopia and the other Montenegro. They spoke English well, and we chatted with them about the flight situation, but they knew little more than we did. Both were office workers on a five day holiday in Marrakesh. Another two hours went by, and we saw people queuing once again. This time we succeeding in boarding and then a long announcement, first in German, and then English and French. Apparently there was an air traffic controllers strike in France, and they were limiting the number of flights that could land and therefore take-off from Morocco. Of course, we weren't headed for France, or so we thought. The captain said we couldn't leave for another 90 minutes because of this, and since the airport in Basel would be closed after our newly scheduled departure time, we would have to go to Lyons in France, and then take a five hour bus ride to get to Basel. I went back to talk to the Swiss girls who confirmed that not only did the Basel airport close at midnight, but so did all the airports in Switzerland. Astonishing.

At any rate we finally landed in Lyons shortly before 2 AM. We were then told the bus would arrive at 3 in order to give us time to go through customs. It didn't arrive until almost 4 AM, supposedly because it had to come from Geneva. Meanwhile, we started to get worried about not making our train at 10:45 because the bus was not due to get to Basel until 10 AM. I went back to talk to the Swiss girls once again, who said that it would take that long because of Swiss rules that said they had to switch drivers after four hours, and then we would stop for breakfast for 1/2 an hour. Not to worry, they said, we would still make our train on time. They would help us get from the airport to the train station. We did stop for breakfast, and since we had no Swiss Francs, one of them insisted on paying. It came to the equivalent of $34 US for three small coffees, croissants, and a yogurt. At these prices, it was a good thing we were just passing through. We arrived slightly early. The girls were headed for the Swiss railway station and we went with them part way, until we had to get off and transfer to another trolley to get to the German railway station. They paid another 8 Francs for our tickets, because for some reason our credit card didn't work. Wonderful people.

We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare, exhausted after no sleep, and Nanette appeared to have caught Dan's cold. The train ride was, thank God, uneventful. When we arrived in Friedrichshafen, after searching around for a bit, we found and recognized Antonette, after four years and knowing each other for all of a week. We drove the 45 minutes to Wangen, stopped to get bread, and then went on to their farm, another 15 mintes away.

Joachim, Nanette and Antonette, in Wangen

She and Joachim had sold the adjacent old farmhouse, and were engaged, along with their friend Peter and his family, in reconstructing the old cow barn, probably four times the size of our 3000 square foot house. They will make it into into two large apartments. Peter is an architect, and without him the whole project would not have been possible.

The construction site after an early April snowstorm

We were staying in a nearby outbuilding, which they had partially renovated. The bathroom and toilet were not yet finished, for which they apologized profusely, but we could use the bath in the old farmhouse, where Peter,Lissie, and Max were staying until the new owners moved in.

The farmhouse

Where were Antonette and Joachim staying?

In Wangen, in an upstairs apartment in Joachim's father's house. When we left, they would move into the outbuilding until the big barn was habitable.

We chatted about their sailing adventure. They recently spent three years sailing up the coast of South America, one of which was a year docked off the coast of Argentina. It was the first time either of them had owned a boat. We thought they had a broken mast, but it turned out not to be quite so serious, only a torn main sail. In China, we talked about meeting them in the Caribbean and sailing to Cuba, but it took them a long time, and they only made it as far as Tobago. They sold the boat and moved back to Wangen, a town of about 17,000, near where they both grew up. It is easy to see why they returned. The place has a very bucolic feel, with verdant rolling fields, patches of woods between the old farms, and in the distance, the snowy Alps of Switzerland in one direction, Austria in the other.



Their new plan, is to finance the place in part through the production of Cidre, hard cider, which they will make from their own apples and pears. It is not unlike our apple cider, but more subtle and bubbly, with the alcohol content of beer. They also plan to distill and sell schnaps, also from their own fruit and berries. This is Joachim's idea. How did he learn to do it? Mostly from reading about the process. He would give Helen and Scott Nearing a run for their money. They also plan to do much of the finish work in the barn by themselves, and then to spend the winters in Thailand or some other warm place.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:51 Archived in Germany Tagged air_travel buildings_postcards Comments (1)

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