Recently in Travel Category

Turkish Knotted Pile Rug Weaving


I know, I know, I haven't posted here in quite a while, and even that was kind of cursory. It even resulted in the server getting hit with a massive spambot swarm last week (which is why this blog no longer accepts comments; sorry, but they're not worth it).

Anyway, how about some travel photos from Turkey?

One day we went to a rug weaving informational center and market. It's called Sultanköy, and it's right next to Efes, which would have been super convenient if we were going to Efes (which we were not, actually, on this trip).

It turns out they are open by appointment only, which they do not say on their web site. But they had just had a big group of tourists in that morning, so they were all set up and able to show us around, which was awfully nice.

They had a big room where several women were working on rugs in various styles.

How the cartoons are used to guide the weaving

They have these nice stools to sit on, with a little cushion. Instead of using one massive cartoon as I have been trying to do, they have sections of the rug design worked out on graph paper and laminated (I think this was just with tape and cardboard) to make a handy card. The card hangs from a bar on the loom for convenient reference.

Making knots

Here's another way of looking at those cards. The weaver doesn't work evenly across: she was working on the middle of the pattern when we arrived, and switched over to the side to show us something else. She puts down a weft thread when needed, not necessarily when she's knotted across an entire row.

I got a couple samples of the wool knot yarn, which is millspun singles, quite loosely spun, from a fairly rough wool.

Knotting singles

After each knot, the weaver just breaks the wool, rather than bothering to cut it.

millspun singles

The knot yarn is also very uneven in thickness. It would be trivial to duplicate this myself on a wheel. The hardest part would be not making it too thin.

A silk rug

There are basically three types of rugs: wool on a wool warp, wool on a cotton warp, and silk on a silk warp. This weaver is starting a silk on silk rug. Because the silk knots are smaller and everything is finer, the rugs end up a lot smaller (and thus seem more expensive per square foot). Silk rugs are generally not for floors, but are wall hangings or gifts (like a ceremonial prayer mat, which is not intended to be used).

Another silk rug

This is a silk rug that is mostly finished, and ready to be cut off the loom.

The silk knotting yarn is a lot stronger than the wool (reeled silk just is), and the weaver cuts it with a small knife that she holds in her hand after each knot.

Dyeing exhibit

The center has a small natural dyeing exhibit, which is probably more interesting to somebody who has had little exposure to the craft. I was interested to see the various hulls and skins they use for specific colours in Turkish dyeing, but I have a pretty detailed book on that already in Turkish (which I can just barely read).

Reeled silk

They also had a silk reeling setup, which was very informative. The knotting silk is reeled from 40-50 cocoons at once, which makes it quite thick.

reeled silk knot yarn

This is my little sample of the reeled silk. It's also not twisted very tightly, though silk generally likes a lot of twist.

The sales floor

After showing us the process, they took us into the sales room, where they laid out several rugs for us to look at and compare. I wanted to buy a rug sized for our (small) front parlour, which meant something around 8x10 feet, maximum. Even that would be right at the edges of the room.

Me and my rug

I bought a smaller rug, about 6x8 feet. It's in a style typical of the area around Bergama, with rich dark reds and blues and a contrast of natural wool white.

An embroidered rug

I admit to being kind of intrigued by the rug hanging on the wall. It's an "embroidered" rug, a mix of flat weave, knotted pile, and hand embroidery.

Embroidered rug texture

The texture is really fascinating, but I knew the instant I saw it that this rug would not do well with animals. In our house it would have to be a wall hanging, and I don't have a place where I could hang it up right now.

In Which We Walk All Over an Island


We went to Russia via New York City, and because we did a nested itinerary (two separate tickets: one to New York, then another from New York to Russia), we made sure we had lengthy layovers in both directions, but extra-long at the beginning.

After all, we can always lose a couple days in New York. Even if it is a heat wave and the temperatures are ridiculous, and the hotel screws up our (prepaid!) booking and moves us across town for the first night of our stay, requiring us to haul our luggage all over Manhattan every day we were there.

We had a bunch of drink vouchers for United that were about to expire, so on the flight in I had a couple glasses of white wine. I think it was the fact that I was knitting a baby sweater while drinking that lead to the glares from people sitting around me. That, or they were spectacularly unfriendly people.

We got into JFK to find that a) the Airtrain had caught fire and we had to take a mysterious series of buses all over the place to get to the subway, b) the aforementioned prepaid hotel had messed up our room, and c) it was getting late, many decent places to eat were closed up, and what was left was either expensive or offensively loud. We had dinner in the wine bar under the hotel and then crashed.

The next day we slept in (not really, but waking up at 8am California time means waking up at 11am in New York), dropped our luggage off at the hotel for the second night, then took the subway uptown to have lunch at Shake Shack. That was pretty good, though by the time we got there I was drenched in sweat. We shared a table with two nice UMass grads, who informed us in all seriousness that when men wear red shoes, it means they are gay.

Then we went on an epic walk through Central Park, mostly towards the Guggenheim but also entirely in the wrong direction.

In the lobby at the Guggenheim

After a couple of hours of tromping through the park in the heat, we really, really enjoyed the air conditioning at the Guggenheim, even if much of the museum was closed off for renovation.

Then we met some friends of mine for yarn shopping and dinner. I had lobster, because in the summer on the East Coast, the lobster is amazing. And it was.

The next day we took it easy, packing up our luggage and taking the subway down to have breakfast at Shopsin's (definitely worth the schlep), then visiting a perfumery in Brooklyn, because that's the kind of odd place we like to go to. Then it was getting on into the afternoon and we headed to the airport for our flight to Russia.

At which point the heavens opened up and we were stuck on the plane, but at the terminal, for hours. At least I got a lot of knitting done, though I did drop my tiny double-point needles lots of times, and almost had to give one up for lost.

Then we were in Moscow.

Hello, Russia


We just got back from a trip to Russia with friends. We rented an apartment, marched around Moscow and St Petersburg, and saw a ridiculous number of churches. I never thought I would go to Russia, having grown up during the Cold War, but when you have good friends who are fluent in the language and know all the paperwork and details of getting around that needs doing, visiting seems more workable. As a result of never having dreamed of going there, I knew pretty much nothing about what I wanted to see, or what there was to see. My only knowledge of Russia is from reading piles of Russian literature from the 19th century (in other words, useless).

I've got piles of photos to write about, but first a few basic things about Russia:

It's said STARdog

1. The language + alphabet barrier is a killer. Unlike in Japan, in Russia there are only very rarely signs in Romanized Russian, so I spent most of my time trying to sound out words (and my grasp of Cyrillic was not so great when we arrived, either). When I was able to sound out words I was better above to navigate or figure out what things were, but that took a real, concerted effort. Many words were so long that by the time I got halfway through them I forgot what the beginning of the word sounded like. I had no ability to look at a word and know what it said. So THANK GOODNESS we were with friends who both speak good Russian and helped us get around and talk to shopkeepers and buy museum tickets. Seriously. I would not go to this country without somebody who has been there before and can speak at least a little Russian. For most people that would involve going with a tour group.

2. Toilets are... well, first of all they mostly cost money (15-30 rubles), rarely have toilet paper (you bring tissue packets with you just in case), and almost never have soap or any means of drying your hands after washing up. I should have brought a supply of wet wipes in packets for the above situation. And also because just experiencing a Russian public toilet makes you want to compulsively wash your hands all the time, since you know nobody else washed theirs.

Subway is everywhere

3. Food in restaurants is good but a bit bland, even for somebody who likes bland food like me. We enjoyed Georgian food (which is a little like Armenian), Assetian pies (Assetia is a region in Russia), and blini when we ate out. If you are so inclined, there were many many Subways, plus KFC, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut; we were not so inclined. Most often we ate meals at the apartment, picking up salads, bread, sausages, fish, cheese, and so on at the grocery store. We ate very well, but it would have been difficult to do so living out of restaurants (though I find this to be the case in most parts of world).


4. In June, you have two important seasons at the same time. On the one hand, the high school students are graduating and there are huge celebrations all over. We managed to be in St Petersburg for their celebration, and then in Moscow for theirs. This is a terrible time to be in these cities unless you want to get terrifically drunk and yell and watch fireworks. The drunk part can be hard though, because Moscow prohibited the sale of liquor in the city for the event. Also in June, you have the puch, which is the fluff from cottonwood trees, that fills the air. And sometimes your apartment. This is just kind of sweet and charming, except when it gets in your nose and mouth.

Long, fast escalator

5. The Metro is cheap and fast and easy to use in Moscow. Buses are slow and unreliable and a bit confusing. Almost nobody uses the buses. Also, the escalators in the Metro go ridiculously fast. Dangerously so. Then you get used to it and come back to the US and all the escalators seem really slow. The Metro stations go between plain-jane platforms and ornate palaces of Socialist-Realist art. You can see them better if you don't try to do it during rush hours.

Novodyevichy Convent church ceiling

6. Most museums and churches have formalized the bribes people used to pay to take photos. You can pay for a photo pass for most places (but not all) that allows no-flash, no-tripod amateur photography. It usually costs less than $10. Also, yes, it is possible to get totally tired of looking at ornately decorated churches packed with gilded icons.

High heels in the park

7. Russian women walk around in the most incredibly high heels in all weather and conditions. The sacrifices they are willing to make for fashion are awe-inspiring. And they're really walking in those shoes, hauling ass over several miles of park sidewalks, for example. Mad props to the Russian ladies, everybody. I suspect they could take any of us in hand-to-hand combat (maybe they wear the shoes so they have a pair of weapons on them at all times).

Shopping in Turkey


Shopping is what the majority of tourists come to Turkey -- or at least Istanbul -- to do. Our hotel in Aksaray was flooded with masses of tourists on shopping tours: they come in and shop like mad all day long. In the late afternoons they would come staggering into the lobby with their arms loaded down with shopping bags.

The reason for this is that certain things are plentiful and cheap in Istanbul, and among those things are counterfeit designer goods. The markets are filled with storefronts with what would be $5000 handbags if they were actually the real thing. Since I am singularly uninterested in wearing anybody's logo all over myself, much less in paying to do so, no matter how little I pay, this sort of thing had no appeal to me, but it had a lot of appeal to pretty much every other tourist.

Now you also find store after store with clothing that is not counterfeit, but is not big-name designer. And to be fair, most of the tourists staying in our hotel were going to those stores; decent clothing is quite inexpensive in Istanbul compared to other parts of Europe, and everybody raved to us about how easy it was to find inexpensive, well-made shoes there.

Grand Bazaar street

Pretty much every larger city has a covered market. This one is the Kapalı Çarşı -- literally "covered market" but in English known as the Grand Bazaar-- in Istanbul. The shops are tiny, little storefronts that can be as small as five feet wide and are rarely more than fifteen feet deep. But they use the space to full effect, hanging merchandise from every surface.

You can buy a lot of stuff in there: there are gold and silver merchants who sell jewelry by the gram based on the commodity price, there are stores that sell mostly souvenirs, scarf shops, pottery sellers, candy and spice shops, rug dealers, watch shops, sporting clothing shops, fabric stores, linen shops, and it just goes on. You won't find stationery (find that at a kirtasiye), or drugs (eczane), or even a book store (kitabevi), but for picking up presents to bring back home, this is your place.

Rug beaters and printing blocks in a display

Because this market in particular is filled with tourists, there aren't any really good bargains in there. I found this display with a pile of old rug beaters -- these are handmade tools for beating the weft on knotted pile rugs. The salesman wanted 80TL for them. I might have been willing to pay 20TL and felt like I'd overpaid, because these are not antiques (they could not have been more than 20 years old) nor are they particularly rare. Nor, I should note, were any of them in actually usable condition. But I'm sure enough people come through and want an "authentic" souvenir, and they can sell as many of these as they need to at that price. We didn't ask about the broken fabric printing blocks next to them; I knew those would be overpriced, as well.

The other thing you should understand is that you cannot be certain of the validity of a brand (well, sometimes you can be sure it's counterfeit), the country of origin of a piece (even when it is printed on the item), or what materials are in a piece (unless it's from the gold and silver merchants). Sellers will tell you what they think you want to hear. Or they may not have enough English to tell you anything at all.

Garden supply

Some of the stalls are outdoors, like pet foods and garden supplies. And unlike US stores where you buy packages of fixed size, these shops open up large sacks and sell by the kilo, so you can get just as much bird seed or cat food as you need (or can reasonably carry).

Sweets display

And sometimes the open bins are a little less than appealing. This is a display of sticky sweets -- Turkish Delight and similar things with sugar and nuts. It is right on the open corridor of the market, so dust and dirt and sneezes can get all over it.

Cat on a vendor table

And if you want your merchandise to be untouched by cats, good luck. I've mentioned how all Turks seem to be totally PWN3D by cats, and I am not kidding.

Also, you can find single-item vendors on the streets. I mentioned previously that you can buy tissue packets and bottled water from unlicensed vendors. But they are opportunists. So when the rain came down in sheets on our last day in Istanbul, the umbrella vendors were out selling cheap plastic umbrellas for 4-5TL each (and we bought one, because I had brought neither rain coat nor umbrella with me).

Umbrella vendor in the rain

The actual shopping experience is a social one. You see an item. If you are interested, you may ask the price or a question about the material or origin (but take it with a grain of salt; you should know how to identify what you're looking for, or not care). The vendor may take the item down for you to examine more closely. You begin negotiating on price -- can I get a deal if I buy more than one, that sort of thing. If you can't come to an agreement on the price, you move on. If you can, you may have a painful conversation that reaches the edges of your limits of Turkish. The price is tallied, and often rounded down -- or the vendor may throw an extra item in the package as a gift to you. You say your thanks, and go through the elaborate leaving process. We went shopping on our last day in the Grand Bazaar, and went through this process several times, for everything from fabric to little tourist trinkets. Apart from grocery stores and the big bookstores, we had no "choose an item and buy it" shopping experiences.

This may make you worried about not knowing Turkish. Which is legitimate. We had my father along to help with translation and negotiations. But for the most part, vendors know a good amount of English. Numbers, materials, a few choice phrases. The only time it gets weird is when you need an obscure item, in which case a small travel dictionary and a willingness to take some time will get you what you need. Shopkeepers seem to be exceptionally bored in Turkey, because they will devote as much time as required to figuring out that you want a darker red fez in size 4 even though the sale is for a ridiculously small amount.

Getting Sick in Turkey


I always worry a lot about illness and medication when I travel, because I take medication every day and need to keep taking it to stay alive. So before we left for the trip I arranged to get an extra supply of my meds -- I always travel with enough for the trip plus one week of travel delay.

It turns out that in Turkey, prescription medications are all available over the counter in any corner eczane (ej-zah-neh, or drugstore). And in tourist areas you will find rows of eczane with big ads for all those drugs they sell through spam. I wasn't in the market for male performance enhancers, but it was comforting to know that if I ran out of my usual prescriptions I could just buy them, usually for much less than the cost of the prescription in the US.

Unlike the mini-department stores we have in the US, drug stores in Turkey pretty much only sell actual drugs and beauty supplies. No notebooks, no pens, no candy. Like most places, the clerks could usually do some very simple commercial English and understand the names of drugs, with one exception, which is that in Turkey, as in every other place in the world except America, acetaminophen is called paracetamol.

You can often buy small packets of tissues (and bottles of water, and other items) on the street. The people who sell them (for 0.50TL or 1TL or so) are basically beggars. Begging is illegal, and in theory so is vending without a license, but the police will turn a blind eye to that for the most part. For the most part the money they make that way is their sole support, so we bought the occasional bottle of water that way.

The word for hospital in Turkish is "hastanesi," the emergency room is "acil servis." I hope you don't need those. However, since hospitals are often indicated on maps, whereas just about nothing else including many roads is guaranteed to be, knowing the words can be an important wayfinding device.

Eating in Turkey

| | Comments (2)

A typical Turkish breakfast, as presented in hotels, has hard boiled eggs, a couple of kinds of cheese (one that is much like Monterey Jack, and beyaz peynir, which is Turkish for "white cheese": a slightly sour cheese with the consistency of feta), thick strained yogurt, sliced bread, a selection of preserves (often including rose flower jelly), a couple of kinds of olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Some places had dry cereal and UHT milk available, but since the cereal appeared to be something along the lines of Cocoa Puffs, I gave it a pass.

Some days there would be börek -- an example of börek that more Americans would have experienced is spanakopita (which in Turkish is ıspanak börek), though usually in the morning it would be sigara börek, rolled into cigar shapes with just white cheese and maybe a few spices inside. Fancier hotels might have a selection of pastries and cakes.

I'm perfectly happy to eat a hard-boiled egg every day, so I did. That, plus a handful of olives, some tomatoes and cucumbers, and a scoop of yogurt with honey on top make a pretty good breakfast to start your day. There was always hot çay (very dark tea) in a dispenser, usually one that also dispensed hot water so you could lighten the çay as much as you liked. Sometimes there was a Nescafe machine so you could get something removely like coffee, but I have it on good authority that the stuff is terrible. Often there was a dispenser of something rather like a less-sweet Tang, which was acceptable. I'm not really a hot beverages kind of person, so most mornings I had the Tang stuff or water.

The rhythm of the day revolves around snacking. Breakfast, do some stuff (for us this was a one and a half hour trip across Istanbul), then a cup of çay. Lunch, which would usually be something fairly simple like döner (meat on a spit cooked with a gas flame, then sliced off either to make a plated meal or to put in a pide, which is the Turkish word for pita) or a piece of börek. Then midafternoon another çay. Then dinner (more elaborate), followed by more çay.

Cay at Pierre Loti

One afternoon my cousin Erdinç picked us up and drove us to some more inaccessible sights. We ended up here, at Pierre Loti, a lovely cafe that looks out over the city. It's perfectly natural to go to a cafe and just order a çay, which costs usually 1.5TL (about a dollar) and then sit at the table for an hour or more. The waiter doesn't glare at you or try to encourage you to move on.

After that cafe, we went to Erdinç's house, where his amazing wife had made a delicious dinner for us:

Dinner with Erdinc

This is a pretty typical fancy but not elaborate dinner for guests. We had a shepherd's salad (chopped cucumber, chopped tomato, chopped onion, dressed with oil and vinegar and maybe parsley). The soup is yoğurt-based, it is made from a dried cake prepared in advance by mixing yogurt plus spices and drying it; you can then powder the cake and reconstitute it with hot water for a quick soup. There's also homemade spinach börek, chilled canned red peppers in yoğurt, and a simple stew, plus we had whole wheat and white bread. (Noel got a special little dish of peppers that you can see in the front; all my relatives were amazed by his ability to eat very spicy foods.) We had sour cherry juice to drink (my cousin is both a devout muslim and a vegetarian, so no alcohol and no meat). For dessert we'd stopped and bought some baklava and a very sweet melon on the way to his house, plus Erdinç's wife made little cooked rice pudding cakes soaked in sugar water.

A typical restaurant meal would be a little less elaborate. We'd usually start with a shepherd's salad (lettuce or greens-based salads were not usually available outside of tourist areas), plus various breads. Then a dinner plate with either an entire small fish (çupra, or sea bream, was a pretty nice choice) or köfte (lamb meatballs) or cooked meat (and meat pretty much always meant lamb cooked within an inch of being charcoal), plus a little dab of pilaf, plus a vegetable or two. I pretty much grew up on pilaf, and it's what I always think of as default starch with dinner (well, rice of some sort). I was surprised how much bread figured in, until my mother explained that when my father was young, there had been a flour shortage, so bread was only for holidays. In the 40-some years since he left, that's obviously changed, and now people throw bread all over the table like it's going out of style.

The other thing is, as in the cafes, we were never hustled out of our table in a restaurant. When you arrived for dinner, they seated you and you owned that table for as long as you wanted to stay. In some cases this could be hours. Some people came and went while we ate our meals, and sometimes we arrived after a particular party and left well before them. Whether this was good or bad for business I don't know, but September is supposed to be the big tourist month in Istanbul and we were always able to find a table; there are a lot of restaurants.

On a practical note, in Turkey restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill, and then you can add more for better service. We always did, though several people told me Turks often do not.

Dinner with the class

On the last night of our Turkish classes, those of us who were physically able (one member of the class was disabled enough to not be able to navigate the streets in Istanbul) went to a restaurant in Taksim. We ordered the mixed grill platter for the table to share. This is the platter arriving at the table: a large tray piled with assorted types of grilled meats and meatballs, with vegetable salads in the corners, bulgar and pilaf on the ends, and flatbreads laid over the top.

A valiant effort to finish the platter

We made a valiant effort to finish the platter, but in the end there was still quite a bit of food left.

You can also see, in the photos, that despite the fact that the vast majority of people in Turkey are muslim, it is still a secular country in many ways, one of which is the ready availability of beer. The local brand is Efes (which you may note is the Turkish name for Ephesus). It's not the greatest beer, just a light lager that borders on having enough flavour, but it's not bad. We also sampled Turkish wines while visiting my father's college friend, who is a vintner, and they were not half bad. The typical Turkish hard liquor is rakı, which is like pretty much every other anise-based liquor I've ever had. It's not bad diluted heavily with water, but not a first choice if you want to taste anything but anise.

Dinner in Aksaray, the city

Here are my parents plus my dad's friend from school, Aydin, and his wife. We had an amazing meal in this hotel in Aksaray (the city, not the neighborhood in Istanbul), and at this point we were on the cheese course. Turkey has a wide variety of very interesting cheeses.

I'd be remiss if I did not at some point mention street food. But honestly, we didn't eat very much street food. Throughout Istanbul you'll find signs for balık ekmek -- fish bread -- which is a grilled fish sandwich.

Fish sandwich stand

You pretty much won't find fish at any real distance from the water, but Istanbul, being right on the water, is crazy with fish. It's not always cheap -- the fish we got in restaurants near our hotel was between 15TL and 20TL a plate, and went upwards if you wanted something fancier -- but street food is usually smaller portions and less fancy, and thus cheaper.

Fish sandwich shop

The other thing you'd see around Istanbul, more in areas where there were fewer tourist, was kumpir. Which is basically mixed pickled things on a baked potato.

Mixed salad vendor

I never expected the pickles. Just about every Turkish sandwich has pickles in it, and you can buy pickles everywhere, and at restaurants you get pickles as if they were refills of water (which you do not get).

My father and the ancestral vegetable stand

And the best kind of street food: little corner markets with fresh fruits and vegetables. This is my dad standing by what I jokingly referred to as the ancestral greengrocer's stand: his grandfather had a fruit stand on this corner when my dad was a kid. Maybe that is why every time we passed a fruit seller, he had to stop and buy fresh figs (in Turkey they are enormous, easily four times the size of a fig in California) and other kinds of fresh fruit. And the fruit is terrific. Turkey doesn't have the same homogenized produce system as we have in the US, and fall is a great time for fresh fruit in a Mediterranean climate, so stands were piled with interesting apples, sweet grapes (almost all with seeds), fresh figs, tomatoes, and so on. Dates were just starting to come in, as well, so you could get fresh dates and dates that had been allowed to shrivel and sweeten but hadn't yet gotten dry. You can get those in the US, but only with careful searching and luck (being in an area where date palms grow, for example).

The next time we go to Turkey we want to rent an apartment (we tried to do it this time but had a language barrier) and do more of our own cooking and shopping. You can live quite cheaply off fruit stands and the other markets, and the food is really very good.

Getting Around in Turkey


Turkey -- well, Istanbul -- is actually quite nicely connected with plenty of public transit. If you don't have to be somewhere at a specific time, or are operating on what we came to call "Turkish Time" which is a sort of perpetual lateness that ends up being quite charming, then public transit will do you just fine.

Public Transit

The first day we were in town, transit was mysteriously free until 1pm, but it was hard to figure that out because of course we had hardly any Turkish. We bought a pair of Akbil, which are these thumb-sized transit passes. Much more convenient than having change on hand, plus the fare is discounted for transfers (though we didn't figure that out until the second week). Even so, fares are very cheap (paying full fare to go all the way across the city -- a 1 1/2 hour trip with two transfers -- was 4.5TL, or about $3.20 at the exchange rate we had during our trip). It's a set fee, unlike BART which charges you more for going further. Like most European countries, Turkey does not penalize you for using public transit.

The thing about public transit is that it can be really crowded.

Crowded tramvay

That's the tram at our usual morning stop (Aksaray). People rely on the doors to hold them in the tram, and it is crowded, very crowded. We often walked up to the next station to get on a slightly less crowded tram. But we'd still be pressing ourselves into a a space where the average American would think nobody more could fit.

Also, practically nobody in Turkey uses deodorant.

On the other hand, public transit was one of the few places where nobody smoked in defiance of the "Sigara Içilmez" (Smoking Forbidden) posters. Possibly because it would be impossible to light up a cigarette in such a crowded space.

On the other hand, some forms of transit were really quite civilized. The Metro -- North of the Golden Horn on the European side -- was much like BART, only on a grander scale, and new enough that it wasn't making the horrible sounds BART makes.

Door in the Metro, Istanbul

I liked the decorative details on this door.

And near Taksim Square, you can take this incredibly slow but cute streetcar:

Istanbul streetcar

It's the "Historic Tramvay" and it is awfully sweet, if a completely inefficient way of getting anywhere promptly.


Walking is always a viable option in Turkey. OK, maybe not safe, but viable. For really big roads, they have pedestrian underpasses, which are lined with tiny shops.

Pedestrian undercross

This was just such an underpass on a Saturday afternoon.

Americans often bemoan the fact that our cities are not walkable, that we need nice sidewalks and comfortable streets and all kinds of things to make them more usable, or nobody will use them. In Turkey, almost none of the streets has a sidewalk that would pass muster in the US. They're uneven, have steep curbs (one near our hotel was 2 feet tall), crowded with merchandise and people and junk, and sometimes cars are parked half on the sidewalk. Intersections are often uncontrolled in any way, and where they are the controls don't take pedestrian traffic into account at all. But people walk, because it's a walking culture.

One thing that I liked a lot about this was that everybody was aware of what was going on around them at all times. You can see in the video that the cars are paying attention to the pedestrians, and vice versa. And pedestrians pay attention to each other.

The only thing I really didn't like was that if you have any kind of physical disability, any reason to rely on handrails or even sidewalks, you are basically out of luck in many parts of the country. Most parts of the country. You'll need to rely on taxis and hotels with elevators, and some restaurants and cafes will be inaccessible for you. And of course the bathrooms are inaccessible.


I don't recommend you drive in Turkey. We did, because my cousins lent us a car and we went on a big tour through the countryside. But driving in Turkey, especially in the big cities, is much more complicated than driving in the US. If you feel right at home driving in Rome, Turkey will be your driving oyster. (That was not a very graceful metaphor, but let's stick with it and move on.)

Drivers in Turkey use road signs as a suggestion. And lane markings; if another car fits, they will put it there, often a lot closer than Americans are comfortable with. They rarely signal. The horn is used both to say, "Hey, I'm doing this" and to say "get moving" and other ruder things. Some of the larger cities are crazy warrens of one-way streets and divided roads where you can't get where you need to be, and road maps are few and far between, and leave out many roads. Also, there are practically no street signs, so even if you have a map you can't place yourself on it. And the people who give you directions (assuming you know enough Turkish to ask for them and understand them) are all pedestrians, so sometimes they say to turn through a covered market or plaza where you obviously cannot drive a car.

We didn't take any bus tours or trains. I've heard buses are pretty nice, trains are pretty slow, and to get to the cities in the center of the country you should just take a plane. Everybody we know seemed to rely fairly heavily on buses and hitching rides with a friend who is headed in a particular direction.


The next time we go to Istanbul I want to take a water taxi, but it didn't work out this time.

The ferries from Istanbul to cities along the coast on the Asian side were quite civilized, but definitely not tourist-oriented. For the most part you end up in a cabin where you can barely see through the windows, with no outdoor access at all. But the ferries are fast and efficient, and relatively cheap if you don't have a car with you. They save you a long slow drive around the Bosphorus and through the city, and for us, they picked up and dropped off at a ferry terminal a few blocks from our hotel in Istanbul, which was a big win.

In Which We Visit Turkey

| | Comments (1)

We spent the last three weeks in Turkey. Most of that time we were in Istanbul, staying at the fantastic Grand Ant Hotel, and taking language classes at the EF Institute; we figured that if regular travel to Turkey was on the roster for the foreseeable future, we should get to know the language. We had some very nice meals and visits with my family in Istanbul, and with my father's school friends across the country.

We saw a lot of the usual tourist things, as well. I have photos (there are also photos on my Flickr page with decent captions, if you are impatient). But mostly I wanted to write some about the experience of visiting Turkey as an American, what the country is like and how to get around. The sort of stuff that's harder to find on everybody's Flickr pages or travelogues.

The Blue Mosque

For one thing, everybody shows you this. It's the Blue Mosque. It's beautiful. You really can't appreciate how beautiful in a photograph. The scale of things in Turkey was unbelievable. I'm used to the American scale of beauty, which is also unbelievable, but I expected Turkey to be more like Europe, where you see a cathedral and instead of being this massive huge thing it's kind of tucked into a corner surrounded by lottery ticket sellers and show stores, and the scale is, well, sometimes a bit of a letdown.

Turkey was none of that.

Small amphitheater at Efes

In our last week there, we took a driving trip around the country. Our first real stop was Efes (commonly known as Ephesus by Europeans). This is the small amphitheater, which has the most amazing views out over the hills and down through the valley, just impossible to take in in one gulp. This was when I really regretted leaving my big wide lens at home, because this was where 180 degrees of view would have been amazing.

In the big amphitheater

I spent a few minutes just sitting and experiencing the size of the big amphitheater. It was amazing. In the way that a huge sports complex can't be amazing because the scale is a little too large and perfect to be believable. Do you see me there? Can you see the people on the very top row, standing by the brown grass?

Likewise, the next day we visited Pamukkale (literally "Cotton Castle"), where there are hot springs.


That red arrow points out people hiking up the rocks to visit the pools.

Turkey is a very big place.

Also, Turkey is full of cats. None of the guidebooks ever mention this, but the place is crazy with them, especially Istanbul.

Cat outside the school

I'm not sure whether Turks are the most cat-crazy nation on earth or whether they are just big suckers, because they let those cats get into everything and everywhere.

Cat in a yarn shop

This one was curled up in a yarn shop. I can't even imagine that working out in the US. But for the most part the cats are also well-behaved, and don't get into too much trouble. They also don't really get fed or cared for, and I never once saw a cat who was easily handled or for that matter had been fixed, but the deal seems to work out OK for both sides.

These are things you don't find in a series of photos or most travel guides. So over the next couple of posts I thought I would write a bit about people and places in Turkey, and what it's like to visit there on a more general note. And I hope you enjoy it more than just a guided tour of photos.

LA Fashion District

| | Comments (7)

I went to LA for a class on silk reeling this weekend (it was awesome; I will write about it later), and stayed an extra day to visit the Fashion District and buy some fabric.

The first thing you should know about the Fashion District is that if you want photos of the shops and your time there, bring a friend who is a photographer but not a crafty person, because otherwise you will forget the camera and spend all your time on the fabric and so forth. That is why I don't have many photos from the district; it didn't occur to me to take out the camera until I was on the rooftop parking lot, getting ready to leave. That person can also be your package runner if they are amenable.

The second thing you should know is that the district looks large on a map, but you can visit every shop in a few hours, allowing you to scout and take notes and then come back and buy what you want. Unless you're looking at the very last half yard of a fabric you MUST have, there's no need to buy right away. Places start to open around 8:30, and stay open until 4pm.

I ordered a map from the Fashion District web site, but it didn't come until the day after I left. I suggest that if you know you'll be going, order the map at least six weeks ahead of time; I ordered four weeks before I left, thinking (foolishly) that mail only takes two days to get to my house from LA. The map they sent was a letter-sized back and white map showing block numbers and general categories of stuff -- it could easily be put on their web site as a PDF. And obviously, since I didn't have it, it was not necessary.

LA Fashion District

Here are the hints I followed:

1. Dress comfortably, because you will be doing a lot of walking, and the more you impress shopkeepers, the more they will charge you.

2. Park in a pay lot with a flat rate (I parked at 305 E. 9th St, where the entrance to the garage is paradoxically on Maple, for $5 for the day) in a central location.

3. After buying something, bring the packages back to your car; both because having lots of packages makes you look more likely to spend more money, and because it's a pain to manage packages in the tight spaces.

4. Purses are hard to manage, so use a backpack (I used my Timbuk2 messenger bag; it worked very well except while bin diving at Michael Levine Loft).

5. Bring a notebook to keep notes on where you bought things, places you didn't like, and places you want to get back to, because there is no way you are going to remember. I prepared some pages in my notebook with names of stores I wanted to visit, and took notes on them as I visited them. I also drew a small map of the district with my planned route.

6. Bring cash, because prices are often cheaper for cash.

Here's what I didn't do:

1. I didn't drink water or coffee. Bathrooms are few and far between in the district. There is apparently a coin-pay one at the Michael Levine store, but because I was not loading up on liquids I didn't need to unload. YMMV and your ability to function on less water may be different from mine. Also, it was not a hot day when I was there.

2. I didn't haggle with shopkeepers. I'm just not that into haggling. I did ask about how prices changed for larger quantities (my standard yardage to buy when I don't know what I'm buying for is five yards), and ended up buying more fabric in some cases because of that.

3. I didn't always pay with cash. Not everybody would discount prices for cash, so when they didn't, I paid with credit.

If I were doing the day over again, I would do it like this:

Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Some stores are closed on Monday, some on Sunday, some on Saturday. Saturday and Sunday are total zoos, and on Monday much of the merchandise has been picked over and not yet replenished. But Monday worked OK for me. I only missed out on one store I wanted to see.

Start at Michael Levine Loft, where there are bins of fabric to dive into. They open at 9am, and that's when you should get there. It's $2 per pound, and you will find some odd gems as well as a lot of awful, weird stuff. I went there after I'd been to a few shops and found near duplicates of stuff I'd bought for much more. Also, you'd be surprised how much fabric is in a pound. Grab everything that interests you, and then sort out what you want from that. If you have a helper with you, have them hold your stuff so you can get to the bottom of the bins.

After you stow your Loft purchases in your car, work your way around the district, making notes, until about 1pm.

Have some lunch -- there is a cart that sells bacon wrapped hot dogs. Don't think too much about what is in there; just eat it and get ready for the shopping.

While eating your hot dog, use your notes to make a plan of attack. It may be worth it to get a fabric at a store where the price for that fabric is a bit higher, if you're going to buy a bunch of other stuff, because shopkeepers will cut you a deal if you buy a lot.

If you care a lot about fiber content, bring things for burn testing. A lot of vendors have fabrics labeled as silk that clearly are not (I'd just spent the previous day reeling silk, so it was pretty obvious to me in most cases). If a vendor won't let you burn-test a snippet (outside, obviously), they probably have something to hide. Me, I'm willing to buy imitation silk instead of real silk if the price is right, and none of the iffier fabrics I bought were priced too high for synthetics.

So, with all that, what did I get?

From the Loft

This pile of fabric is a little over five pounds, from the Michael Levine Loft. Some of the pieces are simply huge -- one is six yards of lining material. Some are tiny (there's a fat quarter of a funny red embroidered fabric in there).

I got lots of lining material, because it can get expensive and I like to line things. If I were hugely rich, I would always use cotton or silk linings, but I'm not, so I often use synthetics. I avoid rayon linings because they make things unwashable.

From Michael Levine

Across the street at the Michael Levine store, I got these two fabrics. I got a nice deal on the green stuff by buying the extra yard on the bolt, and it was already on sale for 30% off the (already low) price. The satin was $3 a yard (synthetic, obviously).

I'm half-kicking myself for not getting a couple yards of a really nice orange wool I saw there; it was $25/yard which was way too much, but I didn't see anything like it at any other store. Michael Levine also has a really, really nice section with high-end yarns, which I passed up because I have enough yarn right now.

Three fabrics

I got these three in a store I went into by mistake. The district is a bunch of narrow storefronts crammed together, with the only signs being above the awnings overhead (and thus often only readable from the street). I was aiming for the store next door to the place where I bought these. That's an embroidered green (I'm going to make it into a summer dress), an orange lining fabric, and a sheer synthetic. Obviously, it wasn't a total mistake to go in there.

Two silk dupioni

It's too bad a photograph can't capture the sheen of these silks; they're woven so that as they move the colour shifts and shines. This was my big splurge. $10 and $8 per yard. And yes, I tested them.

Some beads

The district also has craft (mostly cheesy party supplies), bead, and trim stores. I love the trim, but can't quite figure out how I would use it. Someday I will have a truly great idea that just needs some theatrical drag queen trim, and I know where to go. I did get some beads, though. Those big round ones that look like eggs are going to become spindle whorls.

Home Again


After leaving Michigan, we got back on the road home. The weather was pretty bad when we left Howell, but by the time we got to Indiana, it was clear and sunny. We stopped in at a gun store/fishing emporium to do some shopping.

What on earth would two peacenik commies want from a gun shop? Why, fiber arts tools and supplies, of course. Like this reloading scale, perfect for measuring out dye powder.

Reloading scale

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Travel category.

Technology is the previous category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Powered by Movable Type 4.12