A Weekend of Nature

This weekend was mostly spent communing with nature. Istanbul, a city that has been a city for thousands of years, now is a true concrete jungle with few parks and no quiet places. The few green places inside the city are cemeteries and the occasional trash-filled park. On Saturday, I went with a friend to pet feral dogs in a little visited Adile Sultan Kasrı which is not even featured on maps as a park. There I identified a number of plants which, like most of the plants on this planet, I did not know.

I guess some of my favorites include:

  • Muscari Botroides
  • Veronica sp.
  • Euphorbia Helisconia
  • Borago officinalis


One of the cool surprises of the day was seeing the wild form of Rocket (Roka) otherwise known as Eruca sativa! Like so many of the foods of Europe it also belongs to the cabbage family (just like canola, mustard, and brusselsprouts).

I took my friend to this park because many of the wild dogs who live there had puppies about a month ago. She, like any decent being, loves puppies.


The next day I went to Kuş Cenneti –a poorly kept little bird reserve on the south side of the sea of Marmara. This was my second visit. As right now birds are making their way north I saw a very different set of birds from the ones I saw three weeks ago. In total I saw 42 species of birds.

Highlights include:

  • Common Moorhen
  • Flamingo
  • Spoonbil
  • Black-tailed Gotwit
  • Black-winged Stilt
  • Lapwing
  • Syrian Woodpecker
  • Night Heron

I also got to see two species of turtle and one species of tortoise.

Walking back from the park to the highway, I saw the carcass of what was probably a Scops Owl. I suspect it was it by a car and later mauled by the three Kangal dogs that also harassed me as I walked by. After seeing the owl, I walked into the cemetery across the road. I thought it would be a good place to look for woodpeckers and possible sleeping owls. I didn’t hear any woodpeckers and so I decided to rest for a while. Cemeteries are great places to rest. I put my gear down by a nice shady tree and rolled up my coat to use as a cushion. As I looked down to clear the ground of pine cones, I saw a familiar shape: an owl pellet.

I didn’t get to see a living owl this trip – just the carcass of one and the balled up indigestible parts of the voles and mice that some owl, perhaps even the deceased one, ate.

Back in Bandırma, the town closest to Kuş Cenneti, I had some of the best tavuk şiş that I have ever had. The soup was good too. The veggie plate came with two pieces of Çiğ Köfte which was made very differently from what I am used, yet very delicious. It reminded me of Mercimek Köftesi as it had parsley in it and the bulgur was coarse. I also treated my waist-line to a portion of Kadayıf.


I took a long walk out the jetty into the Marmara and enjoyed watching the Yellow-legged Gulls having their supper.



Why drive a Mustang? Prius is better.

While I was walking in San Francisco with my brother this week, I saw this.

It got me thinking. Why would someone (a man) buy and drive a Ford Mustang? Do they “just like the lines”? or are they trying to find a way to keep the sheets warm on cold, foggy Bay Area nights?

Both a  2017 Toyota Prius and a 2017 Ford Mustang cost about $30,000 USD to buy new in the United States. While one could argue that the Ford Mustang is a pretty sexy car (and by sexy I mean accident inducing) I think I would choose the Prius instead. Sure, the having a Mustang would help me date 22 year-old college students, but I also imagine that the Prius would help me keep enough cash around to buy drinks for my questionably dates.

According to Edmunds.com, while the Mustang gets about 21 miles per gallon in city driving, the Toyota Prius gets 51 mpg in the city. That’s just about 2.5 times less gas burned for the same distance. If you drive 10,000 miles a year, then at the current price of gas of $2.70USD per gallon, the driving the Prius means you will spend $726USD less per year.

Put another way, that’s a week’s vacation in Mexico!

At the same time, using some internet car insurance rate estimator tool called nerdwallet.com I learned that driving the Mustang will probably cost me $30USD a month more than driving the Toyota Prius. That’s $360USD you get to keep in the bank, every year if you drive the Toyota.  If you invest that money in  gym membership at the Berkeley YMCA, not only will you be able to date the sort of women who go for muscle-bound Mustang drivers, but also, date more of them since you’ll live longer.

A quick look at goodyear.com reveals that on average one (1) Mustang tire costs about $250USD, while a similar quality Prius tire costs about 100USD. Assuming you change your tires every 50,000 miles, driving a Prius saves you $120USD a year or ($600 USD every five years if you drive 10,000 miles a year).

The most important point is that the Prius can also help land you dates with environmentally aware graduate school students who will be earning 6 figures in a few years. The Mustang, however, gets you a date with people who un-ironically wear Duke’s of Hazard clothing.

A great show for denim, cowboy hats, old symbols of racist nationalism and tight abs.

Rain, Ruins and Alcohol

Sohbet ettik

On a cold and rainy January morning, the four of us set out to explore the byzantine relics that are less commonly visited. Underneath Balkapanı Hanı there is a Byzantine era basement that was and is still used for the storage of foodstuffs coming into the port nearby. Unfortunately we were not allowed to see it. There is a heavy metal door and a very unfriendly man guarding the ancient basement.


So we went to the Theodosian walls to look for a the oldest standing church in Istanbul. It was once the Monastery of St. John the Baptist Studius, was converted into a stable, then Mosque and then converted into ruins by earthquakes and human neglect. Unlike the land walls, however, this place is well protected and surrounded by a thick wall of its own and barbed wire. I had expected it to be nearer to the water in a quarter of town that that consists of ruins of many eras, 19th century ruins, 18th century ruins, etc.. .and with the church 5th century ruins. But alas, the church/monastery, turned stable turned mosque is in the middle of a respectable neighborhood. So we could not go inside and crawl on stuff. Second plan thwarted.

We then decided to walk back up to the walls. The Theodosian land walls run from the Sea of Marmara near Zeytinburnu to the Golden horn near the post-conquest neighborhood of Eyüp for about 5.5 kilometers. Our plan was to meet with Atila in his crypt and get drunk with him.

IMG_4638To get there we walked along the top of the walls for about a kilometer, at times crawling over very dilapidated section, at other times just squeezing past a crumbling tower which had left us only a tiny and very rain soaked ledge to pass by. When we got to the end of the continuous surface of the walls, just a few meters from the gate that leads to the crypt and so to the last stairs we discovered that they had been closed. So we walked back to the last set of stairs we saw and retraced our path back to Silivrikapı, this time on the road below.

Before going to see Atila we had to get some booze, so we went to the nearest Tekel (liquor shop) and bought what turned out to be the cheapest alcohol we have ever found in the city of cities. Seven liras fifty is all that the bottle of red wine cost. The brand of the dionysian drink is Ottoman, as in English, literally: Ottoman. I asked the shop keepers if they knew Atila. The response was broad smile of affirmation. On a hunch, I asked if he was a regular customer and if Ottoman was his preferred drink. Indeed he was and it is.

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