Ramadan thirst quencher: Sobia

When it comes to breaking the fast in Ramadan, Sobia is a very popular drink here in Egypt. The texture is thick and creamy and similar to a milk shake. Sobia is sold in the streets, in plastic bottles and when I smelled the coconut, I did know that I have found my alltime favourite. I am really crazy about coconut. As the Sobia from the street vendor was very sweet, I did some research for a homemade Sobia and created on this base my own Sobia. For a more natural thirst quencher, you just need

500 ml milk (you could also do a mix of 250 ml milk and 250 ml water, I only used milk)

150 ml canned coconut milk

1 or 2 tablespoon coconut flakes (if you don’t like, no problem)

2 smashed cardamom pods

cinnamon

about one tsp cornstarch (if you use the instant powder, it is not necessary)

sugar (depends on how sweet you like it)

Put it all in a mixer, fill it in a bottle and cool till Iftar. If you are late, you can add ice cubes in the mixer.

This was my theory for my first Sobia attempt. Unfortunately, the next Carrefour supermarket queered my plans as they had no coconut milk in stock. Maybe I was just not able to find it as the signage is a little bit weird.

carrefour

But they had instant powder for Sobia, as it was not really sweet, I guess it was just powdered coconut milk with maybe a little bit extra vanilla flavour and some starch. I decided to handle the powder like coconut milk and followed the recipe above. Just added no cornstarch, it’s thick enough with the powder.

 

The result was delicious but the ‘natural food’ lover inside me said, I would need to hunt again for real coconut milk-what happened the next day and I was lucky.

 

I also reinvented Sobia by adding cold coffee to it and the result was an amazing Sobia-Frappe. Just add as much coffee as you like and maybe a little bit more cardamom and cinnamon.

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Don’t miss to make this easy and tasty thirst quencher during the last days of Ramadan!

Bilhana wa shifa!

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When Turkey turns you off the fun

 

It was not bad in Turkey, but I am happy to be in Egypt now. Five years are enough, seen and experienced it all and some things I never want to experience again, especallially in my professional life. But there is the daily madness, turning you off the fun. Here my favourites….

Giving you the third degree

It is ok when somebody asks you where you are from. But as soon as you meet a new Turk, you get grilled by him or her. The questionnaire  is according to a set pattern. Are you married? What is your job? How much salary do they pay? Where do you live? Is it your property or did you rent it? How much does it cost? Do you have a car?

Grumpy cat not your business

 

Trampling and pushing

Yes, it is sometimes incredible crowded in Istanbul. We all want to reach the boat, bus or metro but we don’t want you to nudge us with the elbow, to poke us or just to push to the front. Head-on collisions on sidewalks also seem to be kind of national sport. No need to step a tiny bit aside that we can continue the way without bruises. Attention? No chance! Excuse me? Said no Turk ever!

 

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Too enthusiastic waiters

You are sitting in the restaurant, enjoying your meal. When your last bite on your fork has made half the distance between your plate and your mouth, the waiter hastens around the corner and takes your plate with lightning speed away. Your glass is still half-full after your meal? Sorry, against the rules to drink it, waiter has to snatch it away.

 

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Hijabi bashing 

Sorry, dear secular Turks, the staff of public entities or students are allowed to wear a headscarf since a couple of years. Muslimahs cover their heads and not their brains. No need to call them ‘stupid’ or ‘reactionary’. They also have names you can use, not necessary to dub them ‘kapalı kız’ (covered girl) or ‘türbanlı bacı'(Hijab chick).

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Phone calls the world doesn’t need

You are sitting on the vapur . Tons of people take their mobile phone out and call a random person only to ask ‘Naaaaaapiyorsun?’ (What are you doing?). The answers they get will always be the same: ‘I am at home’, ‘I am at auntie Ayşes house’, ‘Nothing.’ The reply they get also never changes: ‘I am on the vapur.’ End of call. Who cares?

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Conspiracy theories

There are so many conspiracies in the country and every single Turk is in the plot. You are a foreigner working here? Even from a Western country? What the hell are you doing in Turkey? Everybody wants to live in Europe and you are coming from there? There is just one explanation: you must be a spy.

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Exorbitant nationalism

To be proud of our country is nothing they teach us at school in Germany. A healthy national pride is ok. But sorry, Turks overexaggerate it. There are many good things in your country. But it doesn’t mean that you have to freak out when somebody criticizes your politics, a tradition or just says that the butter is better in Ireland and Indians know better how to cook vegetarian dishes.

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Gossip

About everything. The neighbours. The coworker. The girl not getting a husband. The relatives in the village. The cousin abroad. The new car somebody has or the sofa a family bought. If you are not the topic now, you will be it tomorrow. As a foreigner anyway.

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Spooky scholars

A weird scholar with his circle is never far in Turkey. Some reduce the daily prayer from five to three, others tell you that you will burn for all your sins and some days later, you see them with a ‘girlfriend’ on a jetski. Others own a media imperia to make the brainwash complete. Yanacaksın- you will burn! Leave that up to Allah, ok?

cübbeli you will born

There are many other things turning you off the fun in Turkey but this was going on my nerves all the years. But it’s over now, I am in Egypt and can’t wait for my Iftar-Karkade…

Whirling dervishes – the big sellout

You can’t escape in Turkey from the Whirling dervishes. They whirl in souvenir shops, teagardens of tourist spots, restaurants and nowadays even weddings. You can wear them in form of a bracelet, buy a sculpture for your home and some people even cut their hedge in the shape of a dervish. The dervish became somehow besides the tulip a symbol of Turkey. You can learn the whirling dance in workshops and there is always this random guy next to the Sirkeci train station asking you ‘Wanna see dervish show tonight?’ Show? Later more about this. When you belong to my Muslim readers you might be now a little bit indignant about the whirling dervishes when you are not on the Sufi page. But when we talk about Islam in Turkey, we just can’t ignore the influence Sufi brotherhoods had throughout history. I want to explain you now who whirls there, why they are doing that and if there is a chance to catch up a non-commercial ceremony somewhere in Istanbul.

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The Mevlevi brotherhood, a Sufi order,  bases their doctrines on the poetry of Mavlana Jalal al-Din (died 1273) or just Rumi. He teached in the central Anatolian city of Konya. His works often emphasize the meaning of music as a booster for the human soul to reach higher spiritual realms. The brotherhood (tariqa) puts music and dance in context to the creation of the universe. The movements of the planets in the cosmos are displayed in the whirling dance. The word dervish means ‘doorway’ and this describes the function of the brotherhood member as a spiritual gateway to the heavenly world. Through the dance, the soul becomes free and can get in touch with the divine.

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Before it was a ‘show’

The ceremony of the Mevlevi dervishes is called Sema and it is the dhikr of the order. Dhikr means remembrance , traditionally devotional acts in Islam in which the names of Allah or short prayers are cited. This can be done silently, loudly or as whirling dance, the different brotherhoods have their own styles of dhikr. The story behind is that Rumi once walked through the marketplace and heard the hammering of the goldbeaters. He recognized the words ‘La ilaha ilallah – no God but Allah’, was so happy that he stretched out his arms and began spinning in a circle. We don’t know exactly when the whirling became an elaborated ceremony. Maybe it started around the 15th century. The form we know today occured in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mevlevi dervishes recieved a profound musical education and the reed flute Ney is the key-instrument due to the symbolic meaning in Rumi’s poetry. A Mevlevi dervish underwent a traditional retreat of 1001 days. He learnt not only codes of belief and spiritual practice but also served in the kitchen or cleaned the tekke (lodge). After the training, the dervish stayed connected to the order but pursued his secular job and family life. As the musical education in the brotherhood was excellent, many dervishes worked at the court. Their musical view and mystical philosophy influenced the artistic development in the Ottoman Empire and the most famous composers had all their ties to the order. While the Bektaşi trained the Janissary elite soldiers, the Mevlevi had the role of intellectual and artistic leaders.

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Mevlevi dervishes in 1887

The Mevlevi dervishes created an outstanding musical form, the Ayin. When you have experience with Western sacred music, you can compare its quality to a canata by Bach or a mass by Mozart or Beethoven. The repertoire was teached in the meşk system – that means the oriental oral tradition where the student learns from his master by listening to him. No Ottoman musician ever used sheet music. Western travellers throughout the history described the Sema ritual very well and are a great source for research. The Mevlevi always allowed foreigners to visit their ceremonies, according to Rumi’s words ‘Come, come, whoever you are’.

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 A Neyzen – player of the reed flute Ney

The Ayin consists of four parts, symbol for the four elements and the four seasons. It starts with te Naat-ı Şerif, a kind of prayer praising the Prophet (saw) and after, you hear the Küdüm, a big drum. The beat refers to the phrase ‘He said ‘Be, and it is’ that occurs several times in the Quran. After starts a Ney taksim, that means an improvisation on the Ney. It is played over a long note, a drone, and this creates a mystic athmosphere. If the taksim ends, the Semazenler (that’s the name of the Whirling dervishes) come out and take their positions. The long hut stands for the gravestone and the white garment for the shroud. The dervishes have in the beginning a black cape, when they take it off it shows they are ready to be reborn in the truth. The crossed arms stand for the number one as there is just Allah and no other God. After follows the Devr-i Veledi, the walk of Sultan Veled to the sound of a Peşrev, an instrumental prelude. The dervishes circulate three times and take bows- it’s the greeting of one soul to another soul, hidden behind forms and bodies.

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The whirling itself has four parts, each called selam. In the first selam, Allahs conditions for His creations are accepted as well as the birth of the human being into the truth. The beauty of Allahs creature and the delight of His allmightiness occurs in the second selam. Divine love and devotion characterize the third selam while the dervish prepares in the fourth selam the return from his spiritual journey to serve ‘on earth’.  At the end, verse 115 from Surah Al-Baqarah is cited and a prayer for peace closes the ceremony:

‘To Allah belong the East and the West; whichever direction you turn your face there is the presence of Allah. Surely Allah is All-Embracing and All-Knowing.’ (Quran 2:115)

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At the Galata Mevlevihanesi in Istanbul

The mutrib heyeti, that means the instrumentalists and singers, traditionally consist of male voices, Ney flutes and the Küdüm drum. Sometimes also the long-necked luth Tanbur. But nowadays, you see big orchestras with all kind of traditional Turkish instruments and even the Western cello. Most of the ‘performances’ we see today just feed the appetite for nostalgia and esoterism. Whirling dervishes are  in TV advertisements, in shopping malls, T-shirts, snow globes and restaurants. But what happened? In 1925, the young Turkish Republic closed all lodges of Sufi brotherhoods and transformed the buildings into mosques or museums. Performances were still allowed but without any religious framework. The authentic tradition of the tariqa went ‘underground’ while the Sema, the whirling dance, became a business. In 1953, a delegation from the US visited Turkey as part of the Marshall plan and they also did sightseeing in Konya, the city of Rumi. The dervishes were of course a topic of interest and a kind of cultural heritage performance was organized. After, the major of Konya had the idea that the whirling dervishes could be of significance for the tourism- and that’s how the spiritual sell-off has started.

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Talentshow in Turkish TV – spiritual sell-off

You might wonder now if it is possible to attend an authentic Sema ceremony in all that commerce when you visit Turkey? Yes and no. The real, religious based Mevlevi tariqa life still happens ‘underground’ and you have to know somebody who knows somebody and so on – you get my point. The historical place is not the problem- the Galata Mevlevi lodge at the end of the Istiklal street in Beyoğlu, today a museum, offers regularly Sema. That’s all very well but touristic and people whirling there do it usually because it is their job. I heard, tickets are not that cheap. The Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi next to the tram station Cevizlibağ belongs today to an university. Free admission and when you are lucky to catch up a ‘performance’ of the State Ensemble for Historical Music (once a month) you get the Sema in a proper manner. Musicians, singers and whirling dervishes are employed by government but some of them are real dervishes – not Mevlevis, they belong to the Jerahi tariqa. The ensemble actually derived from the Jerahi as they did a lot of effort to save the Ottoman musical heritage after the lodges were closed, but that’s another story. In Fatih, next to Silivrikapı is the EMAV, the foundation of the Contemporary Lovers of Mevlana. On Thursday evenings, there is Sohbet with the Sheikh and after Sema. Men and women whirl together, I haven’t seen that somewhere else in Turkey. People are welcoming and friendly, there is at least one person around who speaks English. So when you are in Turkey, you should keep in mind: ‘Not everbody whirling around is a dervish.’

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The Yenikapı Mevlevihanesi- if you go, go there

If you are interested in the Ney flute I recommend you as a further reading an article published in the Craftmanship Magazine. For ‘A master of the Turkish Ney’ a journalist from the US did a profound research in Istanbul. He also talked with me and if I remember it right, I complained also  in the article about the sell-out of the whirling dervishes:The reed artist- Craftmanship magazine: http://craftsmanship.net/the-reed-artist/

 

 

Mosques in Istanbul to visit

Everybody knows the famous Blue mosque in Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia, built once as a Christian church and nowadays a museum. Tourists usually also don’t miss the New Mosque in Eminönü and the Sülemaniye with the great panorama and the tombs of Sultan Süleyman and his wife Hürrem. But there are so many other treasures off the beaten track, worth discovering and praying there – when you are a Muslim. Here is my personal top ten.

Sümbül Efendi Mosque, Fatih district

Fatih is the heart of old Istanbul, it is the area inside the historical city walls. The Sümbül Efendi mosque was known since 1284 as Byzantine monastery. 1489, the building was turned into a mosque by the vizier Koca Mustafa Paşa. The Sümbül Efendi , died 1529, was the founder of the Sunbuliye Sufi order, a derivate of the Khalwati order. The place with his tomb was also his tekke or dervish lodge.

Sumbulefendi mosque

Aziz Mahmut Hüdayi Efendi Mosque, Üsküdar district

The big areal on the Asian side in the district of Üsküdar also lets you feel the breath of history. It dates back to the year 1594.

Hudayi mosque

Emirğan Hamid-i Evvel mosque, Sariyer district

The mosque was built in 1781 by Sultan Abdülhamid I. for his son Mehmet and his mother Hümşah and is directly located at the Bosphorus.

Emirgan mosque

Fatih mosque, Fatih district 

The mosque in the heart of Fatih represents a very important stage in Ottoman Islamic architecture. A Madrasa, a main center for studying Islamic sciences, was connected. The complex was built between 1463-1470 by the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. A Byzantine church had been before here.

fatih mosque

Hürrem Çavuş mosque, Fatih district

Finished in 1560 after the plans of the famous architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque was built for Hürrem Çavuş being in duty for Kanuni Sultan Süleyman. The tomb is also part of the complex.

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Mesnevihane mosque, Fatih district

The Nakshibandi Sheikh Mehmet Murat Efendi built the complex as a tekke (dervish lodge) in 1844. It was a center to study the works of Rumi and to pursue studies in mysticism and Persian language.

mesnevihane mosque

Mihrimar Sultan mosque, Üsküdar

Designed by Mimar Sinan and built between 1546 and 1568 for Mihrimar Sultan, daughter of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman and wife of Rüstem Paşa. A very well known landmark in Üsküdar next to the ferry dock.

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Mihrimar Sultan mosque, Edirnekapı, Fatih district

The second mosque, the famous architect planned for the princess, and there is a story behind. It is told that Mimar Sinan was in love with Mihrimar and he had his own way to show her his feelings. Her birthday was the 21st of March, when night and day have the same lenght. So he planned the mosque that on this day the sunset can be observed between the minarets of the Edirnekapı mosque, while at the same time the moon rises between the minaret of the Mihrimar mosque in Üsküdar.

 

Mihrimah Sultan Camii

Mihrimah Sultan Camii

Çinili mosque, Üsküdar district

Built during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim in 1640 for Kösem Valide Sultan. In a traditional quarter in Üsküdar. The mosque is famous for its tiles. Next to the mosque is also the Çinili Hamam, a traditional Turkish bath from the same period and still very authentic and visited by locals. Unlike the tourist Hamam traps in Sultanahmet.

çinili mosque

Rüstem Paşa mosque, Eminönü, Fatih district

Built in 1561 for Rüstem Paşa, the Grand vizier and husband of Mihrimar Sultan. With a single minaret in the bazaar area of Eminönü next to Hasırcılar Çarşısı. Also famous for its tiles from the city of Iznik.

rüstem pasha mosque

 

 

 

 

 

Getaway to Kartepe mountain

Istanbul and forests? There are some trees in parks such as the Fetihpaşa Korosu on the Asian and the Emirğan Korusu on the European side and you can go there for a walk. But hiking and breathing fresh air is something you will miss after a while. Especially when you are from Germany. Forests are an essential part of our culture. A lot of our fairy tales take place in forests and the lonesome wanderer of the Romantic era can only find peace in the nature. When you look at paintings of the period or read poems, you will understand why Germans can’t live without forests. We are deeply connected with the nature and can get lost in it. Other cultures often call us ‘cold’, but that’s not true. Yes, we don’t have the turbulent emotional outbursts like Orientals, but it doesn’t mean we feel less. It’s just hidden in our hearts and souls. At the same time, we are highly effective. It is not a contradiction for us to project our desires and dreams on the forest and at the same time to invent the science of forestry. ‘Two souls alas!are dwelling in my breast’ wrote Goethe and it is all said with that. So what to do when you are in Istanbul and you just need green around you? Kartepe (snow mountain) is a popular winter sport destination and the whole region goes there for skiing. But it is also great in summer and the early fall. It is possible to reach the area by train (there is the new fast train to Ankara and when you get out at Izmit, busses are going to Kartepe). The best is still the car. If there is no traffic (what actually never happens, there is always a traffic jam in Istanbul), the journey lasts about one hour. You are leaving the Highway (Karayolu) at the exit Kartepe and that’s it. We went very early in the morning to avoid the rush hour, so our first stop was the Yazıcılar hotel at Maşukiye. It is also known as the ‘trout valley’ (Alabalık vadısı). If you are into fish (what I am not), the area is the place for you. Turks love trout (alabalık) and as you see in the picture, it is really freshly caught from the creeks of the region.

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But we came for the famous breakfast of Yazıcılar hotel. They serve different types of eggs and cheese, Börek (pastry rolls with cheese), tomatoes and cucumber, tahin and pekmez (sesam paste and grape molasses), if you want, also some sausages and French fries (if you like that in the morning). The Turkish black tea comes in a traditional iron pot. The hotel itself looks nice and cosy and doesn’t serve alcohol. Somebody declared it as ‘muhafazakar otel’ what you could translate as ‘halal hotel’.

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After, we went to the last parking lot before the peak region. As we visited Kartepe during the week, it was empty. Only two other cars on the parking lot and I think one of them belonged to the ranger. There is a tea garden but also everything like a morgue. ‘Hiking’ is a word not really existing in the Turkish language. When Turks enjoy the nature, it means they go by car to a picnic area. Or to a tea garden with a nice view. Hiking in a forest is something, only a few enthusiasts do. And expats.

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The entrance to the peak area. It is not a German forest. But it is a forest I can deal with.

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The view is amazing. I can’t remember if there are signs. But we had fun just to find our own way and had GPS with us. Lonely. And fresh air, what a gift after all the dirt in Istanbul you have to cope with daily. From somewhere sound of bells. Sheep or goats I guess.

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I don’t know what it is but it looks great. A sudden Himalaya feeling on 1600 m.

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It was the early fall we went to Kartepe. I can’t remember when I have seen mountain flora for the last time. The peak area is easy to hike. Due to a lack of time, we started there and not from Maşukiye in the valley. I wonder how the complete tour is.

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Play of colours. Interesting rock formations are along the way and also sources.

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When approaching the chair lift, ski slopes are marked everywhere. As I know how the people in Istanbul can jostle for places on the ferry boat or in the bus and they are literally able to run you down, I just don’t want to experience a snowy day on the slopes here.

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We met nobody in the peak area for five or six hours. But we weren’t alone. A pug, quite fresh. I guess from a bear.

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On our way back. we stopped at km 7,0 of the Kartepe road. Here is the Manzara restaurant. Manzara means ‘view’ in Turkish and when I have learnt one thing in Turkey then that Turks are crazy about ‘manzara’. A flat needs to have ‘manzara’, the tea place you go to must have ‘manzara’. To cut it short, life without ‘manzara’ is possible but useless (pic from an online source, it was already dark when we arrived).

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Traditional Turkish cuisine, nothing fancy but of good quality. I decided to try their chicken pan, Saç kavurması, and with a salad, it was really great. There are many other restaurants and simple eateries on the Kartepe road. If you want something vegetarian, look for a place with the sign ‘Gözleme’ – Turkish pancakes from a hot stone, filled with cheese, spinach or potatoes.

Kartepe facts: 

How to go? By car: From Istanbul or Ankara highway to Izmit, leaving at Kartepe exit. By train: leaving at Izmit station, bus from there to Kartepe, lasts about 30 min. The area is around 80 km from the Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side. It is also possible to take the bus from Istanbul to Izmit and ask the driver to let you out at the D 100 minibus stop. From there, you can take a minibus to Kartepe.

Where to stay? I didn’t stay in a hotel there but if, I would go for the Yazıcılar hotel. I like the idea to fall out of bed directly on that amazing breakfast table. I also like the yayla style of the place. Yayla is the Turkish version of chalet.

Where to eat? Breakfast at Yazıcılar. If you want trout, the fish lovers among my friends recommend the Pınar Alabalık Restaurant in the Alabalık vadısı. Trout from the grill, the pan, with yoghurt, creativity around this fish has no limits there. For other dishes and the nice view, I recommend Manzara Restaurant on the Kartepe road (Km 7,0)

The Valley of the Lovers

If you took a longer break from hiking (as I did, there is nothing to hike in Istanbul) or just want to start your holiday in Cappadocia smoothly, then the tour in the ‘Valley of the Lovers’ is for you. Some hiking pages tell you the tour lasts about 2 hours, but I really can’t remember. I am on holiday and not on the run, so if I like a rock, I can maybe sit there for half an hour, just watching the clouds. Start is in Uçhisar and you walk first on a not really exciting gravel track.

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When looking back, the panorama of the village with its castle will amaze you.

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As far as I remember, there are two entrances to the valley. There is a sign, you won’t miss it. I was just cutting across country, was more fun.

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Arrived down, the play of colours fascinates. The way just goes straight on, there are no inclines. I did the tour twice, in April and in July. When I met three people on my way, it was much. I was alone on my hike and I didn’t feel unsafe.

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The path is rich in variety, I had to pass a little cave and also a kind of fairy forest.

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There is a high probability that you will meet turtles. During the mating season, it can get really loud. I didn’t expect turtles to make such a noise.

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The volcanic soil in Cappadocia is fertile. Melons and all kind of vegetables are cultivated.

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Arrived in the actual ‘Valley of Lovers’ (Aşk Vadısı in Turkish)

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The Romans gave the place its name. Maybe the mushroom was not known at that time?

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If I remember it right, there is the one or other cave you can enter. Cappadocia was not as lonely as it seems to be. Hermits, monks and mystics were living in the caves and also the one or other bandit hunkered down in a place.

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There is a tea place somewhere in the valley. Black Turkish tea, fresh orange juice, Coca Cola, a little bit overpriced and the last Türkü (Turkish folk music) from decrepit boxes. Better to take a Thermos bottle and to look for a rock or cave after your fancy.

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When you leave the valley, you will be somewhere between Göreme and Çavuşin. Somebody picked me up next to the street and when going back to Uçhisar by car, I could enjoy the view on Göreme.

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Most of the tourists stay in Göreme but I would prefer Uçhisar. It’s calm and still authentic. Cappadocia, the fairy land, is my personal chicken soup for the soul. There are some luxury hotels in Uçhisar but I am always staying with friends. Their traditional village house is also a guesthouse and it is a good possibility to experience life in a Central Anatolian village with a great view and a fantastic vegetarian cuisine. If you need a contact, feel free to ask me.

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The crocodile in the bathtub

crocodile in bathtub

Some expats recently discussed if it is allowed in Turkey to keep crocodiles as a pet. If yes, where to get one. I was not really able to help. There is only a shop in my quarter selling all kind of singing birds. Nowadays mostly budgies and canaries but in Ottoman times, the nightingale was a ‘must have’. The Imperial palace had even a ‘guard of the nightingales’. The nightingale and other birds regularly show up in the gazel, a classical Ottoman poetry form. Listening to the song of the nightingales during the fullmoon was also highly appreciated. A yellow bird on the window board indicated in the Ottoman Empire that somebody in the house is sick and people should be a little bit quieter in the street.

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Birds with guaranteed speaking skills – in Eminönü

Birds are also sold next to the Spice or Egyptian bazaar in Eminönü. Budgies, parrots and other singing birds, ducks and chicken can be found here. As the economic competition is high, the shops usually reinvent the wheel. One season, there was an overkill of pink dyed budgies. Other merchants go for promises they can never keep. So there a signs at the cages stating ‘ egg laying guaranteed’ or ‘ Speaking skills guaranteed’.

 

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Leeches for medical treatment are also available in Eminönü but no crocodiles. I think crocodiles should stay in their natural habitat and I can’t really imagine to enjoy a cup of tea while my pet alliagtor is watching me, but I was generally interested in the question. A Turkish law forum in the internet provided a lot of answers. User ‘Mehmet’ wrote there that his pet crocodile would live with him already for two years in the apartment building. The crocodile, now 1,60m long, usually stays in the flat but also enjoys its time on the balcony. Now, Mehmets neighbours had mobilized against his crocodile. ‘I can’t understand this, where is the problem? People also keep cats and dogs in their homes. If they bring me to court, which sentence do I have to expect?’, finished Mehmet his posting. User ‘Mesut’ directly argued with the Turkish law code GBT. Law 5199 states that pets are animals people educate and cultivate. They bring joy and are companions at home and work. ‘How do you want to educate a crocodile? You can’t turn it into a cat’, stirred Mesut. Another user had a rather practical mind. ‘ What do you think will happen when you let the door open and your crocodile eats the neighbour?’ But Mehmet seemed to be stolish. The crocodile spends most of the time in the bathtub. If it would have in mind to eat somebody, his master would be first choice. ‘The best is to use this damn crocodile for a handbag or shoes. Your wife will be happy’, said another one with a snarl. Another Mehmet, lawyer on duty of this forum, could not really help his namesake. But he had an other good story to tell. Somebody in his housing complex had decided to breed a calf on his balcony on the sixth floor. When Eid was just around the corner, there was a problem. The cute calf had turned into a full grown bull. A removal through the staircase wasn’t possible anymore. The fire service had to come and took the bull with a crane. The lawyer stated not to be into crocodiles but he recently welcomed a baby grey wolf in his home.

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Walking the goat in Balat

In a previous post, you already met Pamuk, the pet sheep living in Üsküdar. We also have in Balat a guy walking his white baby goat every day. Some people also have a passion for seagulls. I am not talking about the cheap Döner you can find in tourist spots. It’s an open secret that seagull meat is used. When you think about the horrendous prices for meat in Turkey, you will understand that nobody can offer Döner of high quality for two Liras. The landlord of my friend, living in the noble quarter of Cihangir, has a passion for seagulls. Sometimes, she cooks Spaghettis for them. Looks great on the surrounding roofs. You can also see her in the evenings next to the Galata bridge where she buys fish for the seagulls. While seagulls from other parts of Istanbul still have to fish in the Bosphorus, the society birds of Cihangir have servants. I am not sure if the cat or the seagull should become the heraldic animal of Istanbul, but Türk Telekom has already opted for one. Next to the Beşiktaş pier, you can see those lovely seagull telephone booths.

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The tomb under the house

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I wrote already in previous posts about the Turkish passion for tombs (türbe) of Saints and Sufis. Besides Istanbuls’ superstars in the ‘türbe business’ such as Telli Baba in Sariyer and Yahya Effendi in Beşiktaş, there is always your ordinary tomb next door. When walking from Eminönü to Balat along the Golden Horn, you come across the türbe of Abdurahman Ağa, the Sekbanbaşı what can be translated as the ‘chief of the dogsitters’.

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Here rests the chief of the dogsitters

Ottoman ranks can be quite entertaining. The so called Çorbacı belonged to the Janissary corps and his rank means ‘soupcook’. While the Sofu Baba’s tomb in Fındıklı is embedded in a normal apartment building, the final resting place of Abdurahman Ağa is part of the historical city wall. Balat, my quarter, is surrounded by this wall too. One tomb there has next to the coffin a teamaker. I couldn’t figure out yet if this is a devotional object or if the guard of the tomb uses it. My district Fatih lists 28 tombs, 18 are open for visitors. But I wouldn’t bet that they have catalogued all of them. Because there is the issue with the tomb under my house.

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Old & charming: my house with the ‘cumba’

After my beloved Kuzguncuk on the Asian side became the victim of gentrification, I moved to Balat, the historical quarter next to the Golden Horn. Balat is, let’s be honest, a little bit trashy and scenic at the same time and it has a lot of old building stock from the Ottoman Empire. The name Balat possibly derived from the Greek palation for palace and the palace of the Byzantine emperor was located here. Later on, Jews and Greeks settled in the quarter. It is a typical district of Istanbul, a real melting pot of the cultures and every stone can tell you here a story. I was lucky to find not only a flat here, no, a historical Ottoman ‘cumbalı ev’, a narrow townhouse with the characteristic projecting alcoves. The renovation made me busy during the summer, but I have kind of experience as I lived in Germany in a gatehouse from the 18th century and in Switzerland in a farmhouse from the early 19th century. I wonder if I can rent a pyramid in Egypt, would be after my fancy.

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Yes, I did this

The move was just done as my neighbour said to me: ‘Please don’t throw trash in the back yard!’ Uncle, I am from Germany. Waste separation is our national sport. I would not even think about throwing rubbish in a back yard. The neighbour told me there would be a tomb under the house, so I should always behave respectful, no parties, no alcohol, no drugs. You get his point. Whoever had his ( I was pretty sure it would be a man, there are not many tombs of women) final resting place there, I was interested to find out more about him. First of all, where exactly is that tomb? There was a floor plate in the kitchen. Iron mountings. Suspicious, but not possible to open. I could maybe dig in the courtyard. This project failed as I had no spade. Furthermore, a Turkish neighbourhood works better than the FBI and I was neither in the mood to deal with the police nor with the archeologist of the district. I was not sure if a tomb under the house would be a problem or not. So I decided to ask google, maybe somebody else had the problem before. I was surprised how many people actually had a similar problem.

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The awkward moment when you have a tomb in the house (here in Bursa)

A building in the Black Sea region had collapsed three times. A Sheikh from Istanbul had to come and after a site visit, he recommended to avoid loud music and swearwords in the immediate vicinity. The owner of the site was advised to give up the apartment building and to build a little mausoleum. In another city, five houses were knocked down to have access to a tomb. Not really an alluring prospect when I was thinking about the recent renovation I had done. But there were also good news. An old lady in the city of Eskişehir shares her home with Ahu Mahmud Dede, respectively his tomb. A family in Bursa is getting along well with a türbe in their home since the year 1900. The name of the decedent, Tezeren, even became their family name when Turks in the early republic had to select last names in Western style. So living communities with tombs were within the realms of possibility.

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Somebody made the best of having a tomb in the house

‘No, tombs in or under the house can be really dangerous’, said my colleague and told me about his aunt somewhere in Anatolia. During some nights, stones are thrown from the tomb into the living room. Once being in full flow, he told me tons of scary stories from all over the country. Maybe haunting was the reason for the iron mountings on the kitchen floor? I asked the landlord and all he said was ‘We did it many years ago and it is better so’. Maybe afraid of losing the tenant when he puts the cards on the table? Although I wasn’t worried very much, I decided to proceed true to the motto ‘Better safe than sorry’. So I trusted in the virtues of Sura Al-Baqarah as it is described in a Hadith that was collected by Abu-Qasim At-Tabarani, Abu Hatim Ibn Hibban, Salih and Ibn Marduwyah:

Sahl bin Sa’d said that the Prophet (saw) said: ‘Everything has a hump (or high peak), and Al-Baqarah is the high peak of the Quran. Whoever recites Al-Bawarah at night in his house, then Shaytan will not enter that house for three nights. Whoever recites it during a day in his house, then Shaytan will not enter that house for three days.’ 

So I was reading it with Wudu between Maghrib and Fajr and after, I played Quran recitation daily from the tape. I am not sure if there are more things to consider (maybe anyone knows?), but there was never an incident. I asked around but nobody was able to tell me more about this tomb. And when I think about the landlord, also not willing. But sometimes, it is just better not to know everything.

 

 

 

Ballad of a foreign phone in Turkey

My mobile phone was broken and I wanted to replace it with a nice Iphone. As electronic devices are quite expensive in Turkey, I was thinking about bringing one from abroad and my uncle got quite a good offer. Not a big deal. Stop, you are in Turkey and that means an imported phone is not only a very big deal, it is a nightmare. Tons of people were bringing once phones for maybe half the price from other countries, putted a Turkish SIM card in it, registered the phone for the ridiculous fee of 40 Turkish Lira (that was in 2011) and talked and messaged happily ever after. But freely adapted from Schillers famous quote ‘The very meekest cannot rest in quiet, Unless it suits with the Ministry of Telecommunication’s humor.’, a new law was launched. After using the brandnew Iphone two or three weeks in Turkey, I got a SMS stating that the phone will be closed irrevocably when I don’t register it. As usual, nobody understood the law and how to apply it so I had to run from pillar to post. My first stop was the shop of the telephone company. The guy checked my passport for no reason and told me to go to the tax office and to come back with the receipt. Due to traffic jam, I decided to walk the three km and finally arrived, a sign told us sinful phone importers to go to the first floor.

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A bored lady cashed 120 Lira up, asked for the IMEI number of the phone and registered it on my passport. ‘You can register the next phone after two years, that’s the rule’, she told me and gave me my reciept. Why my fathers’ name was necessary to register a mobile phone will remain her secret. Back to the phone shop, the guy told me he wouldn’t be able to register the phone as I had a foreign passport. ‘Go to the foreigners police and bring a paper stating the last entry to the country’, he mumbled. ‘You only need to copy my passport, there are all the stamps’, was my answer. And why he wasn’t able to say it before? Nothing to do, taxi ride to the center of Üsküdar. True to the motto ‘Ask five Turks and you will get six different answers’, I got renitent and tried my luck in another phone shop. ‘You have to do the registration at the post office’, said the girl behind the counter. Ok, I would not even think about what the post office has to do with the job and rushed to the foreigners police where they printed my last entries out. With the good feeling to have done it properly, I decided to go to the next shop to avoid the taxi ride. ‘I can’t register your phone, we have only one colleague doing the registration of foreign phones and he is sick today’, told me the guy. Taxi again to the first shop. For some inexplicable reason, it went smoothly now, I paid another fee of 50 Lira and while the guy was still sorting out all the papers, my phone told me via SMS that it had got the Turkish citizenship.

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We had a nice relationship for about three months till I got a SMS that I have to register my phone in Turkey within two weeks otherwise it would be closed. Groundhog day? The guy at the shop said: ‘No, this is a fake. Some people try to hack phones this way, never mind!’ Guess what happened? About two weeks later, the phone was closed. ‘There is nothing to do’, told me the guy with a shrug. A vain half hour long, I tried to make them find my registration papers and to phone to Ankara to solve the issue. They got hectic and as usual in Turkey, I wasn’t sure, if there is really nothing to do or if they don’t know what to do or if they don’t want to do something. The upshot was that my mum in Germany has now an Iphone and I had to buy teeth-gnashingly another one in Istanbul. I am not sure if the system has improved during the last two years. I didn’t meet a single person with an imported phone since then and as I am about to leave Turkey, I don’t care anymore. But there was some rumour that you can do the phone registration online with your credit card now as long as you have a valid resident permit.

Cats know the Iftar time

Life in Istanbul is sometimes busy but great. Especially when you are a stray cat. Some people will now get mad at me as there is hardly a day a tourist or expat doesn’t complain on Facebook about municipalities in Turkey poisoning stray animals. Or they search an accompanying person for an animal transport by plane to a new home somewhere in Europe. It is correct that stray animals have a hard life in some corners of Turkey, especially in holiday areas. But collecting and killing of cats and dogs happens rather to supply the tourists’ real or assumed wants for ‘cleanliness’. Especially cats, but also dogs, are greatly respected in the Ottoman-Turkish culture and taking care of them actually brings a blessing. If I want to explain to non Muslims the idea of compassion in Islam, I often use the treatment of cats as an example.

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Ottoman cat, 15th century, from the Saray albums, Hazine 2160, folio 55b

The cat is considered to be the ‘quintessential pet’ by Muslims. The Prophet (saw) loved cats. Who doesnt know Muezza, the prophets(saw) favourite cat? When the call for prayer was heard, the cat was sleeping on one of the sleeves of the prayer robe and rather than disturbing Muezza, he cutted off the sleeve. Abu Hurayrah, one of the companions, had a small cat. The nickname Abu Hurayrah was given to him by the Prophet (saw) and it means ‘father of kittens’. Al-Bukhari also mentions a woman who locked up a cat and refused to feed it. The Prophet (saw) told her that torture and hell will wait for her the Day of Judgement. Europeans had a very different attitude to cats, they were killed due papal decrees or eaten – just think about the ‘roof rabbit’ of the 17th century. When the Turks were before Vienna, food was running out and the Viennese decided to eat cats and declared them as ‘roof rabbit’.

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Feeding stray cats in the late Ottoman Empire 

The Surnam-i Humayun by Intizami, a kind of festschrift, mentions the Imperial cat tamer. The poet Me’ali wrote in the 16th century a lament (mersiye) on the occasion of the death of his cat. Around this time, European travellers wrote the first time about the love of the Ottomans for cats. Salomon Schweigger, priest of the Habsburg delegation reports in his 1608 published ‘Reyssbeschreibung’: ‘ It is common to give alms to cats and dogs. Next to the Waqf of Sultan Mehmet, 30 till 40 stray cats gather in the afternoon. Turks come and give them some chunks of meat or fried liver from a stick. They think it brings a blessing.’ Already 20 years before, the ‘Neuwe Chronica Türckischer Nation’ states: ‘Cats know when it is snack time.’ Chronicles and travel reports mention the spiritual motivated love for animals throughout the centuries, not only in Istanbul, but also in Damascus and Cairo. Especially old ladies were involved in feeding the stray animals, generally next to mosques and tombs. This tradition is still vivid, a great place to watch this out is the the tomb of the Skeikh in the center of Üsküdar on the Asian side, next to the bus stop Horhor. Johann Erich Biester mentions in 1789 an institution where felines were sheltered and nourished- a similar institution existed in the Ottoman Empire also for storks, the Gurabahane-i Laklakan. Istanbuls district administrations provide today little houses for stray animals in parks, when the cold season approaches, Turks share on Facebook tips for do it yourself ‘cat houses’. The initiative ‘One cup of water’ placed bowls in some areas of the city and encourages people to fill it with water for the stray animals.

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The Gurabahane-i Laklakan – Ottoman hospital for storks

Sometimes, you hear next to tourist spots the overwhelmed voice of a female tourist: ‘Oh my God, those poor cats! Somebody has to help them!’. The cats and also the dogs usually ignore such emotional outbursts but the reason might be the Western clothing style in Turkey nowadays. So the identification of friend or foe is not that easy anymore for the cats and dogs. In times past, the street dogs of Istanbul were famous for growling at foreigners or even attacking them. The Europeans (or Frenks as the Ottomans used to call them) hated dogs and usually beated them with sticks. If a Turk in his oriental clothes came along the way, the dogs directly recognized him as friend. They did not get only a friendly word but sometimes even a dainty bit. A chronicle from the late 18th century tells about a man from Genua. He poisoned a dog in the district of Galata. The locals got to such an extent upset that they beated him up. The Italian merchant after had to move to Saloniki.

 

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Stray cat homes in Istanbul – no limits for creativity and care 

When I was living in Kuzguncuk on the Asian side, the old couple next door  surpassed all love for stray cats I had encountered in Istanbul so far. The area hasn’t always been that fancy at it is today. You will still see in the hills some former Gecekondu houses. According to Encyclopedia of Islam, Gecekondu is the name given to informal houses built by rural migrants. It means ‘landed in the night’ and  as we know, what is built within one night, is not allowed to be destroyed. The old couple still lives in this Gecekondu house and surrounded it with wooden ‘cat villas’. But that is not all. The old lady and her husband- already  in their 80’s- feed twice a day between 30 and 50 cats. Not with pet food from the supermarket. She cooks for the cats, sometimes rice with chick peas, the other day a kind of Spaghetti Bolognese and once a week some Shawarma (Döner) with potatoes is served. It is not hard to imagine the results of this diet. As no single cat in the area has to make an effort to hunt for food anymore, they all became incredible fat, just lying around the house in the sun and waiting for the supper. I told the old lady one day in a very decent way that the cats would need food that suits them more. As pet food is quite expensive and they live in rather poor conditions, I organized a big bag of diet cat food and gave it to the old lady.

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Your average Turkish stray cat 

When I came back from work one day later around 5 pm, I saw not a single cat in the street but all the bowls still filled with my now dried-out high quality diet pet food. About one hour later, I was sitting in the garden and the smell of chickpea pilav wafted over, accompagnied by both happy and reproachful ‘Meows’. During the first days of Ramadan, I didn’t see a single cat. Busy with getting used to fasting, I didn’t attach too much importance to it. But one day, I overslept, had no water at home and when rushing back from the corner shop with my bottles, Maghrib was already heard. The lovely spectacle I got was worth having my first sip of water late. The cats gathered around the house and the old couple was serving the usual pilav with chickpeas. After feeding the cats, she and her husband went to the garden where they had their Iftar. I said ‘ En bereketli ve güzel iftar anı sizinle olsun, hayırlı iftalar’, what means something like ‘Have a beautiful and blessed Iftar’ and when the lady saw my somehow astonished face, she laughed and said: ‘I also don’t know how they notice it.  While I get angry meows from them when the food is not ready around 6 pm, they always wait in Ramadan disciplined till it is time for Iftar. As if they don’t want to disturb our fasting.’ While going back home, the words from the old chronicle came into my mind: ‘Cats know when it is snack time’ and I added ‘Those Kuzguncuk cats even know the Iftar time.’ May the old couple have a long and blessed life!

‘Those who are kind and considerate to Allah’s creatures, Allah bestows His kindness and affection on them. Show kindness to the creatures on the earth so that Allah may be kind to you.’ (Hadith by Abu Dawud & Tirmidhi)