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.



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.

Continue reading “Rain, Ruins and Alcohol”

Ancient City, Ancient Crypt

IMG_4511So I met up with a traveler that I had said I would show around town. I had wanted to explore the Theodosian walls further south than I had before. In a past trip I found a synagogue turned parking lot and some really nice Turkish people. Nothing other than cursory research could have prepared me for what we found.

We met up at the Boğa in Kadıköy, and took the famed Metrobüs across the first bridge, across the Golden Horn, and across about half of the length of the Theodesian walls – those walls so impenetrable that only several hoards, Christian and Muslim were able to breach them at different times in history.

We got off the Metrobüs at Cevizlibağ. I got myself a two Lira Pilav, not because I was hungry, but because it is so delicious. We walked across a park across from the 1453 Museum and past a Muslim cemetery. Behind it there is an opening in the second wall, which leads to a stair way. If you climb those stairs you come out on top of the second wall and are able to walk along it, looking out the arrowslits.

Farming in the ancient moat.
Farming in the ancient moat.

Between the second and “third walls”, farmers, of yet-unknown-to-me ancestry farm the soil between the second and third walls. The farmed space is actually the land or backfilled land that exists where the moat used to be. As you walk along it, in some places, you can see small dams built, presumably to contain irrigation water for the farming operation.

Delicious. Fallen cities make the best farming.
Delicious. Fallen cities make the best farming.

The moat, in theory, stretched most of the length of the Land Walls, execpt for the new walls which were built to enclose the suburb and palace of the Blachernae on the northern end of the city, near the Golden Horn. What I call the third wall is actually a restored part of the escarpment of the moat. I wonder how much of the food I have eaten came from this area!

The spaces between the second wall and the giant yet crumbling first wall is a mass of rubble, dog-paths, trash, human latrines, homeless shelters and one ancient crypt, in short a proud UNESCO World Heratige site. A series of holes in the wall, some ancient, some modern, allow pedestrian and vehicle traffic to move between the land of th

e ancient city and the vast expanse of the modern city west and south of the byzantine peninsula. On the back, east side of the wall a motley assortment of shacks, huts, warehouses, city machinery yards and other not-so-pretty things of cities can be found.

A view roughly due west. That is the second wall. The areched doorway is were we came out. We jumped from the ledge down onto the dog-infested path.

As we passed a shop not far from Silivrikapı a man shouted at his friend to take a look at the foreigners waling by. I said hello to him and struck up a conversation.  He asked what after all we were doing in that part of Istanbul. I explained that we were just looking for old stuff. He said that between the walls, just past the Silivri gate was a small church. He told me to be careful.

We made a small stop by a man-café where they had a potbelly stove and warm çay. There, three men with binomial names ending in the name nomen “Kan” or “blood”, Serkan, Hağkan, and AliKan, told us to be careful because all sorts of “Gypsies, Kurds and other people” hang out there. Duly unnerved, we headed 100 meters down, past the Mosque and into the space between the walls.  A few feet beyond the road, sure enough there was a little semi-arched structure and some men in it. We approached, they welcomed us and we spoke breifly.  The man was kind and insisted that we go inside what was presumably his home. I was a bit nervous, though that was nuts. Turkish people are very welcoming and kind and to be very honest, I have never heard any credible stories of attact or robbery.

IMG_4495I was not sure what I expect would be inside, mostly delapidation from neglect and the sheer disinterest there is in all things pre-Ottoman.

Inside, what little winter light came in the columned doorway showed us a room from the very long past. There were at least 6 crypts all of which seemed opened. On the sides there were old carvings, but I couldn’t make them out very well.  This was the first time that I have set foot inside an unprotected, un-restored, uncaredfor historical structure inside Europe. I was fascinated, but did not want to ask the gentlemen anything. I decided to come back the next day with more light and fresh batteries.

That night I  tried to find information about the crypt but for some reason couldn’t find any. This was surprising since there is even information on already dug-up-and-covered sites within Istanbul. Site here.

IMG_4507I went out this morning, camera, tripod, flashling in hand and wearing soil-able clothes. I took another friend of mine with me, and after an somewhat uncomfortable encounter with the wall-dogs, which are far less docile than the ones who exist in the rest of the city, we made it to the  crypt. There was the man from the day before, whose same it turns out is Attila, sitting in the portico carefully cutting and apple on his make-shift table covered in the day’s tabloid.

Continue reading “Ancient City, Ancient Crypt”

Cash for A Sunny Madrileño day


Many years ago, while watching some daytime TV, I saw a segment on saving money. You know, that sort of segment that big brother puts on to appease the poor and make pathetic, jobless loafers feel superior. In this case it was a segment on saving money. They had an “expert” on who explained that you can save a lot of money for a rainy day by always breaking a fresh bill to make your purchases. Well, I thought is was stupid, in part for the aforementioned reasons, but also because in these times who uses cash?

While living here in Spain I do use cash.  Also I am less than wealthy (this may be understatement). So- I noticed in January that I had a nice little pile of coins going and so I decided to see how far I was getting. 40 Euros was the count then. A month ago it was just under 100. Walking home from school today I thought maybe I had hit 120 or so. Wrong. 156+ Euros en la hucha. Hucha is a word for piggybank from the French word huche; de origines “peu satisfaisantes.”  LINK

Anywho, here is the picture of the savings. I will convert them into paper money for travel purposes. Otherwise EasyJet will charge me 155 Euros for the extra kilos the money supposes.

New Year’s Vintner

Don José the vintner showing one of hos bottles. In fact, it is a recycled bottle, he wouldn't spend the money on new bottles when the old ones are perfectly good.
Don José the vintner showing one of his bottles. In fact, it is a recycled bottle -he wouldn’t spend the money on new bottles when the old ones are perfectly good.

On New Year’s Eve 2013 I was in a hostel in Toledo, Spain. Sometime in the day the hostel owner put into my room a Korean father and son. Father has a Ph.D. M.D. and his son is 12. Well, we agreed to get to together to have a New Year’s Eve meal. Sure, I knew that everywhere was gonna be closed because my host had told me so and so had everyone else I spoke with. The Koreans did not believe me. So I agreed to meet them later. When I came back later that day from my I-can’t-remember-what-I-did, we had been joined by a young man from Colorado who, during his off-season, had been living in Madrid. He was, during the season for it, a forest firefighter. He told us that it is fairly boring work most of the time, until you are jumping out of helicopters into the middle of forest fires. But my short story is not about all that or them. It is about the hostel owner’s uncle. José had told me that his parents were going to come to have dinner with him. Well, when we finally got to leaving the two Koreans, the firefighter and I were met with José and his father, his aunt and her husband sitting at one of the tables in the hostel’s dining area drinking wine.

A picture of the group. Note the stern face on José-the-vintner's wife's face.
A picture of the group. Note the stern face on José-the-vintner’s wife’s face.

I approached them simply to say hello, but in that way that some people have, and I suffer from, I got involved in a conversation with the hostel owner’s (José) uncle also called José. This lead to two things. 1, we found out that José-the-uncle makes his own wine and 2, he invited us all for a drink. This did present a number of problems for us, but it was ultimately carried out for 15 minutes or more. The firefighter is a member of AA, the 12 year-old is 12 years old, and to boot, the Koreans (Dr. and son) are, well, Koreans –thus it seems from my experience that they given to cultural shyness. Also they spoke even less Spanish than your average US college student. Well, while there are further details about the conversation, such as the Korean’s falling asleep during the explanation, it is best now that if you speak Spanish, you listen to this man’s little story. It might be pertinent to relate that José-the-uncle is from an area north of Salamanca –if I recall the correct town. He uses the word sollejo to describe the detritus that comes from the production of the grapes. The more accepted word, I found out thanks to the Wikipedia and Wordreference.com, is hollejo.

How to make very good, chemical-free wine by José-the-uncle.


P.S. The wine was delicious, I drank half on one there, and a whole one a few days later. José had  José to give me one. It turns out that the hosteller keeps a ready supply in his cellar.

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