Thursday, May 18, 2017

Winding Down in Turkey

After the conference sessions, we headed to this boat to go see the Black Sea. As soon as we boarded we had lunch and then learned that the weather was not going to allow us to go out of the strait to see it.
While that was disappointing, we did still see some amazing things from the water that were hard to see from land, like this fort...
...and these beautiful summer homes...
...and Maiden's Tower, a lighthouse with much folklore surrounding it. (Sorry for the graininess, it had started to rain a little at this point.)
We headed back to the hotel to get packed and ready to head home the next day. We met up with Beyza, my hostess for the conference who translated for me and helped me get ready for my panel. Cheers and thank you, Beyza!
One funny story to share: my hostess had tried to teach me how to say thank you in Turkish. This morning my room was being cleaned while I was in it doing some work at the desk. When the maid was leaving, I said 'thank you' in Turkish. She smiled at me and said, "Sorry, madam, I do not speak English." HA - so much for trying that phrase out!

In all, it was a very rich trip full of interesting places, people and conversations. I learned so much about a country that had previously been unfamiliar to me. Thanks for stopping by, I'll see you online soon!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Touring Turkey Continued

In between getting some work done, I decided to spend a little time touring more of the city. We tried the Big Bus tour, a hop on/hop off double decker bus. 
This was the view of the European side of Turkey as we approached the Bosphorus Bridge. The buildings are so colorful, the view reminds me of confetti.
We visited the Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian side and encountered this sign containing the easiest Turkish words I've seen yet.
Built in 1865, the palace sits in the shadow of the bridge and was a summer residence of Ottoman sultans and a guesthouse for foreign heads of state. Daily tours are given of the inside but we didn't have enough time to take one.
A view of the Asian side of Turkey as we headed back over the bridge.
We stopped in a shop to buy some souvenirs. This wall of herbs, spices and teas smelled amazing. We ate enough samples of Turkish delight to count it as lunch - chocolate, pistachio, pomegranate, honey...yum! I bought some to share with my friends back home (and yes, you, Dad!). Afterwards, we grabbed a coffee at a cafe to cut the sugar a little bit.
After working in the afternoon, I met up with a group of speakers from the conference and had dinner and drinks along this pedestrian street.
We strolled around the city and landed on a cafe that faced the view in the previous photo. I had this delicious plate of grilled veggies and some cold appetizers (bottom right) with bread. There was a table of Turkish theater and philosophy students sitting behind our table that insisted we switch out our wine for raki, the traditional anise flavored liquor. It was good but we didn't drink nearly as much as they did.
All in all, a great evening trading stories and making friends with strangers (no more)!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Touring Turkey

The food I've eaten so far has been mostly lentil soup, hummus, amazing fresh fruits, and this glorious baklava.
These flags reminded me of Piccadilly Circus in London. I loved how so many people were out enjoying the beautiful weather, sitting in the parks, having picnics and walking around.
After roughly seven miles of walking, we headed back to the Lazzoni Hotel, where we're staying. I had booked a spa appointment in advance (like I do) and headed down to experience a Turkish bath and massage. (I stole this photo from the spa website, since it's a little hard to snap photos when you're trying not to slip on the wet marble floors.)

After the initial confusion of not knowing how to fashion a dress out of a tiny scarf, and a co-ed sauna/steam room situation, I was put on a warmed marble slab, scrubbed within an inch of my life (although it felt nice), encased in three feet of bubble suds (literally), and rinsed down with silver bowls of hot water. Afterwards, I had a blissful massage, which I fell asleep during but still enjoyed. In all it was a great way to end my first full day in Istanbul.
Monday was the start of the three-day World Cities Expo. I was on a panel about the intersection of culture and technology, which I found out about as the panel started (I had been told it was about education, so I vamped a bit). The three other panelists were very interesting and accomplished so we had a nice conversation after our individual presentations. The presentations were in English and the questions were in Turkish, so we switched between wearing headsets with an interpreter doing live translation.
After the day of presentations and speakers, we headed to the Ciragan Palace for a gala. This former Ottoman palace is now a five-star hotel and is the only hotel in Istanbul accessible by boat. We had juice on the terrace before going inside to the ballroom for a five-course meal and live traditional music. We then headed back to the hotel afterwards to rest up for another day. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Catching Up in Turkey

Hello! I can't believe how far behind I've fallen on my updates and recaps lately. This year started with a cultural bang in Cuba and I've barely had time to catch my breath since. I like to keep my blog updated, even if only for my own memory jog down the road, but I started feeling behind and then decided to be kind to myself and catch up when I could. For the past four months, I've been to Detroit, Washington, D.C., Austin, Chicago, Lafayette (LA), San Francisco, Eugene (OR), Chattanooga (TN), and now, Istanbul. (If you are really interested in seeing a few photos from any/all of those adventures, you can check out my Instagram feed.)

All of my trips have been work related and while I am very much looking forward to some vacation time in the near future, I feel blessed with jobs that have taken me to amazing places, near and far. My current trip is especially exciting because I can't say that Turkey had been high on my list of places I was planning on going, but it has been an incredible trip so far. I am here to speak at a conference about smart and connected cities (yes, I know I'm a nerd), and today I had the chance to explore part of the old city with a colleague.
After taking a taxi and walking past shops with towers of Turkish Delight, we started at the Istanbul Archeology Museum, which is made up of three buildings. The ceramic tiles (left) were my favorite, but the statues, columns and outside features were beautiful too. It was hard to believe how old many of the artifacts were, dating back as far as 4100 BC.
While the inside of the Hagia Sophia is wonderful, the scaffolding, throngs of people and light going every which way wasn't, making it difficult to get a photo worth sharing. I would highly suggest clicking on the link to see the inside of this former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, which was later an imperial mosque, and is now a museum.
Across from the Hagia Sofia, is largest of the hundreds of underground cisterns that used to supply the city with water, the Basilica Cistern. This underground marvel was renovated in the 80's and is still being worked on. The "crying pillar" (center, bottom) had a hole in it that people kept sticking their thumb into and moving their hand in a clockwise motion. Since I didn't have time to look it up, I didn't want to do more harm than good and skipped it for now. I also liked the upside-down ancient Roman Medusa head at the base of a column.
The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is still an active mosque, hence my headscarf. The architecture, history and beauty of this mosque, built starting in 1618, is really something to behold.
After the mosque, a man who had following us, giving us hints about where to go, waited for us at the door. He wanted us to come see his shop. And while it felt a little like "don't fall for buying the frying pan at the home show," it was a pretty special experience we couldn't have planned. The main salesman had grown up in the U.S., his father a skilled tailor (in Rochester, NY no less!). He'd moved to Ohio and Jersey and a few places in between.

The shop was run by his family who were from Southeastern Turkey. Amid rugs, tea made by a young Syrian refugee man, discussions about world politics, and ornate craftsmanship, we were won over and left with rugs --because you never know when you'll be back! I'll share the rest of the day with you tomorrow - I know, there's so much in one day!