Pera Palace Hotel, Istanbul

Pera Palace (View from late 1800s) By Canerol86 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46742193
Pera Palace (View from late 1800s)
By Canerol86 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46742193

Established in 1895, this hotel was built to house the elite who traveled on the Orient Express between Paris and Istanbul. Everyone who was anyone stayed here.  As Wikipedia says, “the very name inspires visions of Ottoman grandeur, the great European fascination with the East, the immortalisation of Istanbul’s unique culture in Western literature, and the very beginnings of world tourism as we now know it.”

The writer Agatha Christie was a regular guest from 1926 and 1932 and “Murder On the Orient Express” was possibly written in Room 411. Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, first stayed at the Pera Palace in 1917 and found Room 101 his personal favorite. Kings and queens, the famous and the infamous all stayed here.

With this kind of history, I had to find the hotel, still overlooking the Golden Horn and within walking distance of Taksim Square. This was once the Pera district,  Istanbul’s “Little Europe.” It is now Beyoglu (Bay oh loo). With everything that’s grown up around it, you don’t suspect the history, nor the opulence inside.

Pera Palace, Istanbul, 6

Current prices are not as bad as might be expected. The Ernest Hemingway room was about 1000TL a night (about $325), but it’s possible to get a single room for half that.

Pera Palace, Istanbul, 4 Pera Palace, Istanbul, 3 Pera Palace, Istanbul, 2 Pera Palace, Istanbul, 1

I would have loved to see the museum rooms, but they didn’t appear to be open the day I arrived.

Chora Church

Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 6I had been to this church in 2008 when I was on a tour of Turkey, but wanted to return for a closer look. Unfortunately, the extensive renovations meant that I really didn’t get to see much of the building, perhaps half. Still, the mosaics alone are incredible and the frescoes better than you would expect for the age. The reconstruction work may take years, so I may never see it complete.

Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 7According to Wikipedia: The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (Turkish: Kariye Müzesi, Kariye Camii, Kariye Kilisesi — the Chora Museum, Mosque, or Church) is a former Byzantine church, later Ottoman mosque, and current museum in the Edirnekapı neighborhood of Istanbul.[1] The neighborhood is situated in the western part of the municipality (belediye) of the Fatih district. In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque, before becoming a museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with the original Byzantine-era mosaics and frescoes unearthed after its secularization.

My guidebook focuses on the mosaics that describe the life of Mary, but I remember our guide (the best tour guide I have ever met) telling us more about the life of Joseph, which I found fascinating at the time. Now, those mosaics are in an area that is off limits.

Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 10 Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 11 Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 14 Cora church, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 16

Across from the church entrance. Bache means garden.
Across from the church entrance. The sign roughly reads “Kiosk for family, Tea Garden restaurant and cafe.” See? My Turkish is improving!
This is the neighborhood beside the church. You can't get a good look at the church from the outside now because of scaffolding.
This is the neighborhood beside the church. You can’t get a good look at the church from the outside now because of scaffolding.
The church is built just inside the old city walls.
The church is built just inside the old city walls.
I got there on the metro.
I got there on the metro.
Even the art in the metro is nice.
Even the art in the metro is nice.
They really spend a lot of time on landscaping here. Public spaces are very beautiful.
They really spend a lot of time on landscaping here. Public spaces are very beautiful.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum, redux

English Time isn’t keeping me busy during the week, so I’m using the time to get some exercise and enjoy the amazing Fall weather. With my roommate, Monique, I returned for a visit to the Archaeology Museum last week. Just a few quick photos.

The museum, like most of Istanbul, has a family of cats. I love how they lounge among the ruins.
The museum, like most of Istanbul, has a family of cats. I love how they lounge among the ruins.
I think this must have been the base of a column. It would be easier with more English descriptions, but there's enough for an enjoyable and enlightening visit. The museum is still in major renovation mode. This is an older section, but some of the newer ones are completely translated.
I think this must have been the base of a column. It would be easier with more English descriptions, but there’s enough for an enjoyable and enlightening visit. The museum is still in major renovation mode. This is an older section, but some of the newer ones are completely translated.
All this just to house a dead body!  The word sarcophagus means "flesh-eating."
All this just to house a dead body! The word sarcophagus means “flesh-eating.”
OK, so it doesn't look like much, but this is all that remains of the three bronze heads that once protruded from a column on the hippodrome. According to Wikipedia: To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century, as many Ottoman miniatures show they were intact in the early centuries following the Turkish conquest of the city. Parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. All that remains of the Delphi Tripod today is the base, known as the "Serpentine Column".
OK, so it doesn’t look like much, but this is all that remains of the three bronze heads that once protruded from a column on the hippodrome. According to Wikipedia: To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina. Among these was the Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade. The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century, as many Ottoman miniatures show they were intact in the early centuries following the Turkish conquest of the city. Parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. All that remains of the Delphi Tripod today is the base, known as the “Serpentine Column”.
You can read more here. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippodrome_of_Constantinople  Also, I photographed the items remaining along the old hippodrome's spina, now part of Sultanahmet Meydani.
You can read more here.  Also, I photographed the items remaining along the old hippodrome’s spina, now part of Sultanahmet Meydani. http://wanderforlife.com/hippodrome-constantinople/

archeology muse, Istanbul, Nov 2015, 10

My new museum pass means that I can visit many museums for free.

Everything doesn’t happen for a reason

Everything happens for a reason.

I cringe every time I hear this phrase. Every. Time. It’s a lie. Some things DON’T make sense. There is no “reason” for some events. If you can pick yourself up after loss, if you can go on after tragedy, congratulations. But don’t tell me it’s good or it’s part of some big cosmic plan. You don’t know that. You don’t know anything.

Last week I watched 50 women in a silent protest, walking up and down a crowded pedestrian mall.  The carried pictures of their children. Their teen-aged sons were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by police, just because they were Kurds who protested in a peaceful demonstration. They don’t know what happened to their children, but they were probably beaten to death. Most have never been heard from again. These woman were certainly risking their lives by protesting.

I’m happy to say that as they passed, everyone got out of their way, removed their hats and applauded. That was beautiful, but it isn’t a reason. The applause doesn’t make it OK.

Are you going to look these woman in the eye and say “everything happens for a reason?”

This is the article that prompted this.
http://www.timjlawrence.com/blog/2015/10/19/everything-doesnt-happen-for-a-reason

August, and it’s not just the weather that’s hot

It's August. There is little air conditioning on the metro. But these women have at least two (and probably three) layers of clothing covering everything but their hands and face. I am melting just looking at them.
It’s August. There is little air conditioning on the metro. But these women have at least two (and probably three) layers of clothing covering everything but their hands and face. Even scarves take a minimum of two to cover the hair completely. I am melting just looking at them.

My last few days of posts have been pretty negative. Living in another country where you don’t speak the language nor know the customs is unsettling. The company I work for, English Time, has new ownership. Things are in flux—and if you aren’t the one doing the changes, it never feels good. It’s worse when you have no idea what the plans are and no one will tell you. It just looks like a mess. Maybe it IS a mess. Maybe there’s a plan I know nothing of. Who can tell? Not me, that’s for sure.

But instability and not knowing are things I need to learn to live with. It’s part of the deal if you agree to be an ex-pat. I’m in no danger. I just feel unsettled. My company paid me late, but they do pay. I’ve got a financial safety net if they don’t. I have people I can stay with if I need to come home. The political system is (fairly) stable here in Turkey. I’m about as safe from physical harm as in most US cities (hey, no one is bombing churches here!), though political unrest does happen.
Things are uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Hey, life is uncomfortable wherever you live! I know my mood has been dark, but frankly a big thunderstorm and the cool air that follows would do more to perk me up than almost anything. It’s hot. I’ve moved too many times. And I need a day off.

It will all get better. Please don’t worry about me, folks.

8/10/13
I’ve not been affected, but there has been some unrest in Turkey. The US consulate sent a message that they would close for one day. Internet news reports:
“Istanbul (AFP) – Six members of the Turkish security forces were killed and the US consulate in Istanbul hit by a gun attack in a day of violence Monday blamed on Kurdish and Marxist radicals as Ankara pressed on with its air campaign against militants.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has claimed over 20 killings of police and soldiers since a devastating suicide attack three weeks ago in a mainly Kurdish town.
Around 390 PKK militants have also been killed in Turkish retaliatory raids, according to the Anatolia news agency.”
http://news.yahoo.com/key-events-three-weeks-turkish-unrest-181747409.html

8/12/2015
It’s been a very tough week. I moved all my belongings to a flat in Sirinevler (from Sukrubey) on Friday (August 7th), then on Monday (August 10th) I moved everything across the hall to my actual room—which is quite small but has good windows and a terrace. This room had been fellow teacher Alex’s but ET is moving him to Silivi to teach there. He’s not amused by this. While the room is tiny, at least it has a real bed, not a just a couch, and two dressers where I can hang up clothes and put things away.

I’ve had double classes for five straight days which is brutal enough after moving, but I’ve also had to travel to a new branch. Monday through Wednesday I taught in Beylikduzu in the morning. This neighborhood is a miserable one hour MetroBus ride to a branch I’d never been to before. The staff was nice, but my 23 students and I were forced into a theater style room that barely held us all. It had no air conditioning or air movement. Not even a fan. I had to constantly drink water to avoid dehydration due to sweating. There were no desks so the students could barely write. Almost all of the students are Libyan and came to Istanbul just to learn English. They have good language skills for Level 2 students and despite the class size were a delight to teach, even in the heat.

The other teachers, however, were simply horrible to me. This is my EX roommate’s branch and I can only imagine what she’s said about me. The head teacher, Mark, was very complimentary of my work. He told me that the students had asked for me to stay on. I told him that while he seemed nice and the students and staff were great, I hoped never to meet any of his teachers again. And could he forward my pay from this branch so I wouldn’t have to come back?

My name is a mystery to most of my students. They have never heard it before. Looking at the class roster, I think I know how they feel. I always introduce myself to a new class, but invariably a few come late. So on a break, I will hear, “Teacher, what name?” I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, but I turned quickly and said, “Oh! Beth! “ I didn’t realize my mistake for a full day. What they had heard was “Ohbeth” or as they are far more likely to say, “Ohbet.” There was a small argument among the students about this before I could clear it up.

Today was a particularly hot one. My students, though wonderful, require almost constant attention, even during breaks. It’s four straight hours and it can be exhausting work. Add to that a one hour MetroBus, both coming and returning. Today the buses were packed, a solid mass of people crammed into a small, airless space. There is no personal space and you can’t move without touching someone. Elbows in your back. Bags and children hitting your shins. Crying babies. Strollers taking up the aisle and rolling over your feet. It was all I could do to keep myself from screaming. I am “peopled out.” I live just off a busy city center and by the time I walked back to my flat, I was ready to be away from people for a solid week. Unfortunately, I have to teach tonight.

My new roommate is a very handsome, 26-year old black man. I’m surprised to find he’s from Alabama as he has no southern accent. He seems a good roomie, even if he did take out the electricity a couple times with his X-Box. The wiring in these old flats just isn’t up to US standards.

You see few tattoos in Turkey, but perhaps if you put Ataturk, the father of the country, on your shoulder it's ok. The man's dress is atypical. Even Turkish men usually wear a long sleeved shirt and perhaps a jacket, even in August. Earrings are very unusual and large necklaces uncommon, though bracelets are often worn. The beard, however, is practically de rigueur.
You see few tattoos in Turkey, but perhaps if you put Ataturk, the father of the country, on your shoulder it’s ok. The man’s dress is atypical. Even Turkish men usually wear a long sleeved shirt and perhaps a jacket, even in August. Earrings are very unusual and large necklaces uncommon, though bracelets are often worn. The beard, however, is practically de rigueur.

8/14/2015
I received this email today from the Embassy of the United States of America located in Ankara, Turkey:
INCREASED THREAT LEVEL DUE TO PKK ANNIVERSARY AND RECENT EVENTS

“The U.S. Embassy in Ankara informs U.S. citizens of an elevated threat level from terrorism in Turkey, as evidenced by the August 10 attack on the U.S. Consulate General in Istanbul, in which two DHKP/C members (one remains at large) fired weapons at the Consulate building.

The Embassy also notes that August 15 is the anniversary of the first Kurdistan Worker’s Party (known as PKK or Kongra-Gel (KGK)) attack against Turkish government installations. Historically, this anniversary date has prompted an escalation of violence by the PKK and other splinter groups. Recently, the PKK has targeted the Turkish military and Turkish National Police (TNP) officers and stations, while the DHKP/C has targeted TNP and Government of Turkey facilities.
U.S. citizens traveling or residing in Turkey should be alert to the possibility of increased terror activity in urban and tourist areas, as well as throughout southeast Turkey. We urge U.S. citizens to exercise caution and maintain a high level of vigilance. U.S. citizens should be aware of the possibility that terrorists can conduct complex attacks, with secondary follow-on attacks targeting first responders to the initial attack. Review your personal security plans, remain aware of your surroundings, and monitor local news stations for updates.”

8/16/2005
It’s Sunday and there’s never a dull moment, even on weekends. And not always in a good way. We should have been paid yesterday. The office used the excuse of “oh, it’s a weekend” to not paid us. Like they can’t see weekends coming? I think what bothers all of us is that we simply don’t know about our pay. We asked about it earlier in the week, but no one seemed to know. Will we get it on the day promised? The next? How about Monday? There’s no information. We aren’t exactly over-paid, so most of the teachers are broke by payday.

And speaking of no information, I was the first one in this morning to find classrooms padlocked. Robert came in a few minutes later and was just as surprised as I was. Neither of us could read the Turkish signs on the door. Robert’s the head teacher and when he asked the office he was given no explanation. He was told that Monday morning classes were canceled, but today’s classes would happen. WHERE? They opened my old classroom, but another teacher ended up in a makeshift office with no white board. (The signs turned out to say “closed for renovations.” The rooms all need it. The desks are broken, the AC doesn’t work, the windows don’t open and there’s no wifi, even though the school advertises it.)

We’ve been worried for the last couple weeks because classes aren’t opening up at this branch, while other branches have several new classes. Some of our teachers are on “loan” to other branches to deal with the shortages there. Will they come back? Our Turkish branch manager, Huysen, is blaming Robert—which is pretty ridiculous since Robert only manages teachers, not classes. He can’t open classes. We both suspect the entire office is far too busy watching soap operas to call students to arrange classes. Hey, those soaps aren’t gonna watch themselves!

A park in Atakoy, walking distance from my new flat. It's too hot to use the equipment and the men are just sitting there.
A park in Atakoy, walking distance from my new flat. It’s too hot to use the equipment and the men are just sitting there.

8/17/2015
We finally got paid this evening, though we didn’t know for use until we actually saw the money. The classrooms are still mostly locked. We still have no explanation. Today, the computer wasn’t working, We have four, but only one ever woks. We couldn’t reach our files at all. But since there was no internet access either, it didn’t matter, because we also couldn’t use the printer. It was a disaster for my lesson plan. Something else was missing, too: Husyen. He’s the Turkish Branch manager who’s been so negative. I understand he was fired today. I’m not sure how much of the staff is still around. While I’m glad to see him go, I don’t actually know how that will affect this branch. Will they remodel the classrooms and unlock them? Will we get more classes? I have two classes finishing soon and will need new classes to stay employed. If we don’t get new classes, will I be sent to another branch to teach? If so, where? That would be disappointing, since I JUST moved here to this branch. On the other hand, if I’m not sent to another branch, I’m out of a job. What the heck is going on!?! A little communication could go a long way here.

I ended up teaching my class in the tiny makeshift office tonight (the office Husyen used to have). They found a small whiteboard—about one foot by two feet in size. It doesn’t meet the needs. It all just seems too unprofessional for a such a big company with branches all over Turkey plus a few scattered across the world. They have about 200 teachers just in the Istanbul metro.

So, at 10pm, I walked home, hoping to just take a shower and crawl into bed. It was another disappointing and unsettling day and I wanted to forget it. Instead, I find an email from someone I’d never met. Seems she is a new potential ET teacher. The school gave her my email—without my permission. She had a long list of questions about how it was to work for English Time. This did not improve my day. Fortunately, she told me who had given her my personal email, so I emailed that person. I politely asked that they not do this (very) unprofessional thing again. I also suggested that I might not be the best choice if they wanted someone to persuade this young woman to be a new teacher with ET. Under the circumstances, I’m finding it difficult to think of positive things to say.

This is from the YeniKapa (new gate) metro station. They have displayed several of the artifacts found while digging this line.
This is from the YeniKapa (new gate) metro station. They have displayed several of the artifacts found while digging this line.
People have probably continuously lived in this area for 10,000 years--we aren't that far from some of the word's earliest civilizations. It's pretty tough to dig and not find something.
People have probably continuously lived in this area for 10,000 years–we aren’t that far from some of the word’s earliest civilizations. It’s pretty tough to dig and not find something. Public works projects must be a nightmare.

8/18/2015  Five minutes before this evening’s class, the power went out. Since I’m still teaching class in the tiny make-shift office, it got really stuffy in a hurry and the windows don’t open. I’d planned to give the Reading Exam, but by 7pm it was already too dark to give any exam without overhead lights. We stuck around until 8pm, but the power didn’t come on. Classes were canceled and I’ll give the exam tomorrow. The next question, of course, if whether or not I’ll be paid….

Power outages are very common here. Most businesses have generators and are back with electricity in a few minutes after a power outage. In fact, the floors below us all had power from a generator. Why didn’t we?