Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Savoring Santorini

After one all-night ferry ride, another baking-hot-in-the-sun ferry ride, a hot coach (big bus), and an even hotter mini-bus ride, I returned from Santorini to my sweltering/stuffy apartment, five loads of laundry(including sheets and bedding) in my tiny washing machine and tons of cancelling-utility-errands-in-a-foreign-language drudgery. On top of that, I have to cancel my wi-fi tomorrow which means I'll be going "cold turkey" for four days. (I'm a bit panicked about that and have started scouting air-conditioned free-wifi hotspots.) Anyway, I never had a chance to write about one of the most beautiful touristic places (Colorado mountains excluded) that I've had the opportunity to visit so here's my last opportunity for several days.

My travel companions and I arrived at the Santorini ferry port about 1:00 am and were met by our shuttle driver who then drove us up a narrow, steep, windy road switch-backing up the steep cliff of the famous lost-city-of Atlantis-mythical volcano. I wasn't scared but I was American-judgmental watching our driver talk on a cell phone with his left hand, shift gears with his right hand and swing wide on all the switch backs to avoid making 3 point turns. Luckily, I didn't  have to see him back up to one of only several wide points in the road because we never met oncoming traffic. After driving for about 20 minutes the van left us at the top of a hill where we were met by a porter who hefted our over-weight bags on his shoulders and led us down a city block's worth of curvy, steep cobblestone steps and into our hotel room where were promptly dropped onto our beds and fell fast asleep.

The next morning I awoke early (what's new?) and quietly tiptoed out of our hotel room door and onto our balcony. Our room was nestled into the steep, rocky cliffs of the volcano's caldera and overlooking the sea and nearby Greek islands. To the right, hundreds of crisp white hotel rooms dotted the curved edge of the caldera making it appear as if we were all modern-day cliff dwellers. Birds were gracefully floating at the exact height of our balcony and occasional song birds would chat with each other on the grape vines filled with plump, green grapes that were shading our balcony. Church bells from the surrounding hillsides chimed on the hour reminding me we were in a new country. Soon a steaming cup of coffee magically appeared via last night's smiling porter. I soaked up the beauty, pinched myself several times, and relaxed in the peacefulness of my favorite time of day in such a beautiful location.

After my companions awoke, a delicious breakfast including eggs and bacon, fresh Greek yogurt and fruit, breads, honey, fresh squeeze OJ, and more coffee was delivered to the table on our balcony. Sitting in the slice of heaven was just the peaceful interlude needed after a the crowds and noise of Fethiye and Rhodes.

After a day of relaxing by the pool, exploring the tiny cobblestone paths, climbing and descending stairs countless stairs, and eating our fill of delicious Greek food, we returned to our hotel room, raised our glasses of white wine to Santorini's world famous sunset.

For the next two days, we hiked the trail from Fira to Oia, drove the island's scenic, roads, swam at the island's many different colored beaches, and walked through many ancient historical places. We even managed to stumble upon a "local" hangout complete with live music and a California woman who fell in love with Santorini 25 years ago and never left. A short conversation yielded the fact that she currently leads tours of Santorini's many wineries, but she really got our attention after the Greek musicians coaxed her into singing "Summertime". At this point one of my travel companions created the story that she must have jumped off a cruise ship all those years ago and never got back on. She was  really good!

After a final, delicious meal and another beautiful, yet cloud-covered sunset, we parted ways. My companions liked it so much they decided to stay an extra couple of days on the island, but I needed to get home and pack for my departure. Sitting here among half-packed boxes, trash bags, dusty floors, and over-sized suitcases, I needed to take a break to remember where I was only two days ago before the memories fade away.

View from our hotel patio/balcony.

Watching the sunset from our balcony.

The Red Beach

The ropes tempted me so I rang the bells.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Ferry Good Surprise

I was sitting in café waiting for our Blue Star Ferry to depart Rhodes, Greece  for Santorini. We’d “settled in” to a café style table and three comfy chairs in preparation for the nine hour journey. We were wondering if there would be a snack bar or should we take food. Would we have enough entertainment to keep us busy for the ride. Would there be wi-fi? We were surprised and delighted by the size of the ferry along with its amenities including four levels, sleeping cabins, pool, numerous bars, restaurants, a casino and.....wi-fi! I had been expecting something like the ferry I took 30 years ago with only a bottle of Ouzo, my sleeping bag, a couple of fellow backpackers, for company. This ferry was somewhere between a Royal Caribbean cruise and a Washington State Ferry with the amenities leaning towards Royal Caribbean. Very Cool!
We were even confronted with  the usual cruise dilemma…Should we eat, drink, nap, read, stroll or type a blog? I can't speak for my travel companions but blogging came first followed by an ice-cappuccino and happy hour on the upper deck while watching the magnificent sunset. Several high lights of the trip were dinner on linen table cloths in the dining room and watching the unloading and loading process of people, cars, motorbikes and 18-wheelers. It would make sense that Greece has a very efficient ferry system since most islands are dependent upon goods being delivered.
The best part of this ride was the cost - It seemed to be a heck of a deal for 39 Euros (about $50).

My travel companions.

Sailing into the sunset.

Rhodes, Greece

Although my blog is PJinTurkey, I can justify a discussion of Rhodes, Greece because it was occupied by the Turks for a long time…hundreds of years. As a matter of fact, at the bazaar inside of Rhodes Castle, many of the shops were selling Turkish lanterns, bright colored pottery, and scarves exactly the same as one could find in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or Kemeralti in Izmir.  In addition to many churches and evidence of the Knights of St. Johns inside the castle wall, tourists can also find a beautiful mosque, a peaceful fountain, and a library donated by one of the sultans during the Turkish occupation.
On our second day in Rhodes, we rented a car and drove to the base of the Tsampike Monastery and hiked 377 steps up the rock faced mountain to its small chapel dedicated to Virgin Mary. Story has it that many years ago some miracles happened so a chapel was built to thank God for the miracles. Then, during the Turkish occupation, it is rumored that one of the sultan’s wives could not conceive a child. Hearing of the miracles that had occurred at this chapel, she climbed the steps to the top of the mountain to pray for fertility. She also swallowed a candle wick. Later, when she was pregnant, her husband the sultan did not believe the child was his and accused her of infidelity. But, when the child was born it was holding the wick of the candle she had swallowed when praying at the chapel thus convincing him the child was his and a miracle had occurred.

In addition to the chapel we also swam at four different beaches, hiked to the ancient acropolis of Lindos, and enjoyed a traditional Greek meal at the hotelier’s brother's restaurant complete with mezze (appetizers) that were similar to Turkey with the exception of the many different kinds of pork, the Greek white wine, and the flavor of the bread.

Entering Rhodes Castle

The acropolis at Rhodes

Some humor at Rhodes Castle

Fantastic Fethiye

I had the unexpected good fortune to travel to Fethyie for the first stop on an final week’s tour through Turkey and Greece. (Our school let non-returning teachers leave one week early...yippee!) Three nights at Calais Plaj, Fethyie was enough to give us a beautiful cruise with swimming stops, dinners at sunset, a four- hour, 16 kilometer hike up mountains, across olive orchards, through the ghost town of Karakoy, and down the rugged hillside to Oludeniz. Although strong winds prevented us from partaking in the world famous paragliding, they also gave us an excuse to return one day to Turkey. A final rooftop dinner sipping wine and watching a sunset completed our tour of the Turquoise Coast.

We walked to this ghost town bout 9 km from Fethyie on our way to the sea.

These homes were abandoned when the Greeks we sent to Greece.

After leaving the village we hiked another 6 km. This was our first view of the sea before we started downhill to Oludeniz.

We took a 6 island cruise and swam in this cave. The water was beautiful.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Saying Goodbye to my School

Friday was the last day of school for students and teachers like me who are not returning next year. The parking lot was packed with parents and students excited for summer to begin.  The outdoor canteens were overflowing with parents and teachers enjoying  tea or Turkish coffee under bright blue skies, swaying palm trees and pink, red and white oleander. Students were trying to lick their ice cream cones before they melted under the hot June sun.

I tried to hug as many students and teachers as I could. I tried to inquire about summer plans and minimize the tears of some students who were learning for the first time that I would not be back next year. I tried to thank both the teachers and the staff members like the copy-center lady who did her best to understand my Turkish directions (collate/front to back/booklet) and the food service worker who tried every day to tell me in English what they were serving and I would try to repeat in Turkish.

I hugged my English department colleagues and gave them hand-written notes because I knew I would not be able to express what was in my heart and I feared the day would be so chaotic and full that I might not even see some of them during the day.

I did not go to lunch, the last period of the day, because I couldn't handle any more "goodbyes". I hope that I will see some of the people again. The world is small so you never know. I do know that I will take carry a small part of many people with me me and I am richer for having met them. Until we meet again, goodbye for now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Banging Pans, Flashing Lights, Honking Horns

There is plenty in the news about the protests in Taksim Square (Istanbul) as well as "solidarity" protests in over 70 cities across Turkey, Izmir included. A quick internet search will yield ample photos of tear gas, riot police, barricades, burning cars, the Prime Minister speaking, etc. My students have been eager to talk about the reasons for the protests, what they hope the protests will accomplish, and their fears/concerns.

I think by reading many of our news sources you will get the general sense of what is occurring over here so I won't bore you with the details. What I can do is give you a first-hand account of what I've seen or been told in Izmir.

The changes that I've seen are:
-The park along the seaside in Alsancak (downtown Izmir) filled with tents, banners, people playing guitars and singing, make-shift food tables with people lined up to share meals, campers sweeping the mats in front of their tents and several vendors making the most of the proximity to new customers.
-Grafitti on many buildings and public areas, broken street signs, lamp posts, upended chairs and tables.
-Additional gendarme (police) on the bike path and patrolling the road to work. (I'f they've been there before, I'd never noticed.)
-Broken glass, broken signs, snapped off lamp posts and trees.
-Random traffic jams caused by impromptu protest marches chocking out the drivers and closing the roads.
- The consistent 9:00 p.m. banging on pots and pans, honking of horns, and flicking the house lights on and off.

The things I've been told:
- The protests are not really about taking down trees for a mall, but are really for myriad political reasons..there is a long list of grievances that you can find on the internet.
- Some female students are afraid for their future. They don't want to lose their freedoms. They don't want to cover. They want to be free to drink alcohol.
- Many people are worried about the future and stability for their families. They find it difficult to make plans.
- Several  are worried about the world perceptions of Turkey. They know it takes years to build a reputation and only a short time to destroy.
- Some people are afraid of the police. Where they used to see the police as someone who could help if they had a problem, they now are afraid and turn the other way if they see police.
- They believe that some of the tear gas contained a diluted amount of "agent orange."
- People feel nervous, tense, and stressed out. They wonder what will happen.

However, as I go about my normal day, it's easy to forget there are protests. I can hear music from a wedding echoing from the nearby hills.  A stop by my favorite organic market yielded fresh veggies and "just baked country bread." Dinner needs to be cooked. Bills need to be paid. Problems need to be solved. Beer and wine needs to be sipped with friends while overlooking the sunset on Izmir Bay. In other words, if it weren't for the 9:00 pm cacophony of pots of and pans, the English Facebook posts from Turkish friends, or the concerned updates from my American friends, life is going on as usual.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Baseball in Turkey

This is my second year teaching baseball during the last two weeks of school. Exams are finished, class sizes dwindle, and the motivation for "academic" book work is zero. This is my second year of being amazed at the way baseball ignites student effort to speak and understand English. This is my second year of ending a school term with my least favorite classes becoming some of my favorites. In other words, baseball is a great way to both motivate learners and increase understanding and memory.

Here's my first example: Middle school student #1 who lost most of his books and supplies in November, never wrote anything but scribbles on his paper, and threw paper wads and talked most of the year loves baseball. He listens to, repeats, and comprehends each new rule. He was the first player to "catch a fly ball" to make the batter "out." At the end of class he walked up beside me beaming and said, "Mrs. Jansen, today I hit a home run and caught a fly ball." (That was his first complete spoken sentence of the year!) And, I'll never forget the time he asked if he could be the catcher. I said "yes", and he was crestfallen when he saw that he wasn't the pitcher. "But you asked to be the catcher," I said. It was a perfect natural consequence for not listening well to the names of the positions and you better believe that next inning he got that straightened out.

Here's another example: High School student #1 (a boy) and high school students #s 2 and 3 (girls) were not particularly interested in going outside and playing a baseball.  They were OK playing BINGO with baseball terms and eating their M&Ms markers if they got a BINGO. But physical activity is not a favorite past-time. As a matter of fact, they are pretty good English students but  typical "non PE types." They even asked if they could just sit in the shade and watch.

Me: "No, you should at least 'give it a try' and 'be a good sport'. Besides we needs you. It's hard to play baseball with only 5 players."

After all three of them got their first hit, (yes, for the first several innings I pitch them balls they can hit.)They were hooked on the game. The boy said to me, "This is the only sport I like playing!" The girls asked if we could play again next week.

I philosophize about "why" baseball works so well to teach English (and American culture)  I can come up with lots of  reasons. But the bottom line is, we all have fun!

Baaaaaaat-ter Up!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Turkish Piano Concert

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful concert performed by Fazil Say, a famous Turkish pianist and composer, at the lovely Bostanili open-air theater.

A friend secured tickets to this sold-out concert several weeks ago. I'd never heard of Fazil Say but after saying "yes" to the concert and writing the date on my calendar, his name started popping up frequently in the news. Apparently he'd recently received a 10 month suspended sentence and 5 years of parole for exercising his freedom of expression.

Fast forward to last night and I'll have to admit that I was little concerned about attending a concert of a celebrity musician who is a poster child for free speech at the exact time that protests have escalated here in Turkey. Also, attending a concert in an open-air theater (although they closed most of the windows to block some of the noise from the beating-on-frying-pans) in the middle of a neighborhood where light protests were going on outside made me think about my exit strategy a little during the concert.

Fortunately, the concert was excellent! Fazil Say is loved by his fans who gave him a standing ovation  the minute he entered the stage and approached the Steinway concert grand. He began the program with a rousting, five-finger-chords, heavy-on-the-bass rendition of the Turkish National Anthem and sung by Turkish citizens of the sold-out crowd.

Aside from this masterful performance with fingers flying across the keyboard, the structure of his piano concert was interesting as well. He played everything from memory. He stopped after very song, took a bow, reached for the microphone and the talked with the audience. His rapport seemed friendly and joking but supportive of the protests and openly critical of the current administration.  He used both the pedal and the strings in ways that made me want to go home and try the piano to see if I could achieve the similar sounds: hollow echos, plucked strings with haunting resonance, changes in mood and timbre.The sway of his body into the keyboard and the expressions on his face between a smile and a grimace was not distracting but rather led me deeper into the audience into the music.

(You can hear the protesters in the background)
As I'm writing this post I'm greeted with the 6th night in a row of the "music" of pots and pans being beat by my neighbors. They've been playing for over 10 minutes with no sign of let-up. The rhythm just recently changed to match the chant "resign Erdogan". Fireworks are exploding, people are whistling, car horns are honking, and cheers can be heard from a distance. I miss the music of last night's concert.