Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Expat 101

Five years ago I didn't know where Turkey was and it was unlikely I could have given a useful definition of expat.

Some things I learned along the way:

1) The sooner you call where ever you are "home"; even if it is temporary, the easier everything gets.

2) If you do nothing else, learn all the local language you possibly can by whatever means you can.

3) "You're not in Kansas, anymore." Or where ever it is you're from - make peace with that and move on.

4) It's your responsibility to stay in touch with friends and family back home.  Out of sight - out of mind is a cold hard fact of life, so you're going to have to work at maintaining relationships with people at a distance.

5) If it's not in the contract, it isn't going to happen. CEO's and CFO's may agree to all sorts of things, but in the end the contract you sign is all you can expect. A detailed contract is your friend.

6) Trailing spouses need exceptional partners.  I am fortunate because mine communicated and shared decision making.  We have seen many unique expat marriages arrangements in our time here and some unusual divorce arrangements too.

7) If you're moving abroad for the money; don't.  Exotic travel destinations and your family's income converted to local currency may look like a windfall, but there is a downside for both the employee and the family when you're ten thousand kilometers from people you love.

8) Your children may suffer.  Do everything you can to mitigate that pain and loneliness. This applies to children of all ages.  Even adult children can be affected negatively when their parents live abroad.

9) You're stronger, more resilient and more creative than you think.  You can do this! Learning a new language, navigating a new culture and finding satisfaction and contentment is possible even far from home.

10) Treasure the people you meet along the way. Other expats and natives living in your new country will be invaluable assets as you navigate the new culture and cope with the unfamiliar.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

It's starting to look like...

I can take "learn Turkish" off my to - do list.

I tried to wave a man ahead of us in line at the grocery store this morning.   We had two full carts and he had a basket.

Not only did he refuse; he started a conversation with me about who we are and what we were doing in Gelibolu in ENGLISH!

In the five years we've been here I can count on one hand the number of times a man has spoken to me (never).  Men speak if Cam's with me (he wasn't this morning) and we are introduced, but never when I am on my own or with the children.

Every time I turn around lately, someone else is speaking to me in English.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Hello, this is Johanna speaking.

Last weekend it was looking like Dad was going to be really busy for the next three to four weeks and the weather was excellent. I had been kind of hoping to go somewhere, so Friday afternoon, I got the job of planning the weekend: destination and activities. Mom said she would book the hotel.

So I looked around, and finally settled on a Greek town West of Alexandroupoli called Xanthi.
It was supposed to have a couple of churches, museums, and a fairly nice `old town`.

Saturday morning, we left bright and early for the Greek border. It turned out to be a good thing we did. It took us all of two hours, possibly more, to get across the border. This made the 2 hour drive to Xanthi take closer to 6 hours.

Once we finally crossed the border, we drove past a long avenue of tractors parked on either side of the road. Apparently the farmers (and others) are protesting a tax hike that will pull 29% of their income instead of 10%.

About half way between the border and Xanthi we faced another delay as we were rerouted by the police, off the main highway and through the center of Komotini. We eventually found a secondary highway and continued on our way. While I`m not 100% sure why, the road was closed I suspect it was another demonstration, and the tractors were blocking the road since we ran into the same problem on the way back.

On the bright side, the detour took us around lake Vistonida, which is also home to the St Nicholas monastery. Two churches, and a few other buildings are built in the lake at a spot called Porto Lagos.

It was a beautiful day, and everyone was glad to get out of the car. On our way back to the car, we stopped to talk to one of the monks who spoke good English. I don`t know why I only took one picture, but I guess I wasn`t quite in vacation mode yet, and I was just excited to be out of the car.

My understanding is that the monks living at this monastery come from other monasteries on Mt Athos, the holy mountain to the South. For more information on Mt Althos check out this CBS article. The monk we talked too couldn`t wait to return to the mountain because of how damp it was on the water. I can`t really blame him.

After leaving the Monastery we made our way to the hotel, checked in and walked up to the main square, where we found a restaurant that the concierge had recommended and ate supper.

We wandered the Old Town until dark, then found a cab driver and zipped back to the hotel.

On Sunday we spent our day at the History and Folk museum in the Old Town and the Avdera Archaeological museum at - wait for it - Avdera, a tiny little town South East of Xanthi.

The Folk Museum was better than I expected. It was housed in an old fashioned duplex that had been built by two brothers. Apparently the tobacco trade was very big, and very profitable in Xanthi through the 18 and 1900s and the houses of the tobacco merchants are now theaters, restaurants and this one is a museum.

We had to knock hard on the door to get in, but the lady inside was happy to see us and tell us all about the house and the displays that we had questions about afterwards. There were plenty of displays of traditional dresses and  outfits.

Upstairs they had few furnished rooms and a stamp collection dating from the mid 1900s to now.

Downstairs were a few more furnished setups and a few farm implements, including a wooden plow. There was also an assortment of household items and supplies, some old photography cameras and a movie camera. and a still for making Ouzo. Unfortunately, the downstairs area was poorly lit and I didn`t get many decent pictures down there.

The house was just as interesting or more so than the displays it housed, The stair well to the upstairs was painted to look like Marble.

The ceilings and walls were painted with graduated levels of molding. If you look closely at the ceiling in these two pictures, the first layer of molding is real, but the rest is all painted.  Upstairs, the ceiling was painted to look as though it were open to the sky.

 From the museum we found a restaurant and had lunch, then at my request we went to check out the church I had spotted the night before. It was beautiful on the outside.

 But the inside wasn`t a slouch either.  Looking at the paintings and chandelier made it easy to imagine what the Hagia Sophia must have looked like before the Muslim takeover. Of course, the decor in the Haigia Sophia would have been Mosaics instead of paintings.
The museum at Avdera was interesting because of the large number of grave related finds, including pottery, jewelry and a couple of slightly creepy grave reconstructions.
They also had a slide show of images from the excavation of the site from the early 1900s and onwards, as well as some copies of original sketches and notes from the archeologists, which was fascinating.

 That evening we completed the locked room puzzle that I had booked, with the help of google translate on the greek site the people running the facebook page, and the guy in charge of the site, spoke English well. The puzzle itself was hard because it split us up and put us all in different rooms (jail cells and Dad was chained to a wall). But we made it out, and were all still speaking by the end of it, even though the guy in charge was rather annoyed with some of our improvised solutions.

On Sunday we drove home, but once again, the trip didn`t go as planned, instead of crossing at Ipsala, the same way we came in, we were diverted to the northern border crossing at Edirne. The drive is quite a bit longer, but we had no trouble at the border crossing itself. Once we were back on the Turkish side we all gawked at another edition of only in Turkey. We followed this truck for a while after getting out of Edirne. The horse was haltered, and tied in the front of the truck box, it seemed quite content to stick its head out in the breeze. The rest of the box seemed to have most of a household in it, an appliance or two and some furniture. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

No Camel Wrestling After All

There are two "cultural" events, that I've been reading about in the guide books. One is oil wrestling which happens every year in June near Edirne on the Greek/Turkey border and camel wrestling which happens in January in Selcuk.

With a little arm twisting, I convinced my family that a trip to Selcuk might be just the thing.  We left Friday morning and arrived in the dark Friday night after a long, but uneventful day on the road.  There are a few roads that lead to Selcuk from our house, but they all involve mountains.  We decided this trip that a new route was in order so we crossed the Marmara at Lapseki, drive to Canakkale and from there to Can and then Balikeshir.  It was a wild journey, up one side of the mountain and down and then back up again.  Now these are little mountains compared with the Canadian Rockies, but 500m elevation gain on narrow Turkish roads without so much as a guardrail, make for an exciting ride.Thankfully the weather was good and the views were amazing. The other good thing about the day was that Sam was riding shotgun and I was in the backseat!

The weather for Sam's birthday, on Saturday, wasn't so great.  It was windy and threatening rain, so we headed to the Train Museum first.  Not sure why but the kids love this place and of course Cam does too.  As usual we had the place just about to ourselves.

Johanna spent a lot of her time getting in and on the trains.

Nicole and Sam spent time together exploring.

I seem to have taken a lot of photos of roosters!

On the way back from the Train Museum, I suggested we stop briefly at the Seven Sleepers.  We'd never been before.  According to legend, seven young people hid in a cave to avoid persecution.   They fell asleep and awoke miraculously 180 years later. This site isn't on the regular Ephesus tour.  I had the impression it was a small cave with a restaurant out front.

This is what I expected. 

This was what we saw.
It appears that a large Christian church was built into the rocky hillside to commemorate the miracle.

The site is an amazing warren of passages, niches, and empty tombs.

Not all of the site is visible from behind the fence.  The kids followed a steep path to one side of the site and gained access to some of the more interesting areas that way.  

In some places the original painted mosaics are still visible.

After a ramble around the site, Johanna and Sam went exploring down a narrow pathway along the hillside. This is what they found:

Two enormous rock arches.

The gigantic boulders on the ground made me uneasy, because it was clear they had once been overhead.

The kids loved the place and I tried not to worry about falling rock.

After a late lunch in Selcuk, Cam and I dropped Johanna, Nicole and Sam off at St. John's Bascilica, the site of an enormous church built by Justinian I and Theodora, who are also responsible for the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  The apostle John is buried on the site. Cam and I went looking for and found Pamucak Beach and the nearby site that was going to be used for the Camel Wrestling event the following day.

Everywhere we went in Selcuk there were orange trees filled with fruit.We picked a few after we saw locals filling bags.The flesh was light orange and the fruit very sour.

Taxi drivers sharing a one pot meal. No forks just bread for dipping.

The enormous fortress on top of the hill overlooking the town is under repairs and not really open for visitors. However the gate was open and I hear that Johanna, Nicole and Sam walked up the hill and had a look a round inside.

Sucuk (garlic sausage). Johanna and I had a walk around the market late in the day.
Lots of vegetable and fruit vendors.
Bags of grains, dried beans and spices.

On our way out of the market, Johanna and I followed the sound of music and found a crowd of 50 people squeezed into a small area, watching a couple of men dance in the street.  We hung back initially because the watchers appeared to be men.  However, two of the band members (the drummers) were women.  When we got close, one of the older men who was watching, made a place for me to get close and take pictures.

The crowd and the dancers in front of the arches of the aqueducts.

A dancer and a drummer.

One of the dancers.
The band and dancers from the back.
Afterwards, we found a little place nearby for supper.  Cam told the waiter that it was Sam's birthday, so he went out and bought a small cake, wrote Sam's name on it and brought it for dessert.

Through the night high winds ripped through the region, bringing heavy rain. After breakfast, Sunday we drove out to the camel wrestling site bundled for the weather, only to discover that the event was canceled and the camels had "gone home".  We were all disappointed.

We spent the rest of the morning in the newly opened Ephesus Museum. It's the nondescript brick building behind the tourist information center near the the bus station; not the enormous pillared building at the edge of town as I first thought. The beautiful building with the columns and carved stone lintels is of course a shopping mall built especially for people arriving by tour bus.  The Museum has an interesting collection of coins, headless statues, sarcophagi, jewelry and small household items retrieved from Ephesus.  They could have used more seating especially in front of the 30 minute "through the ages" video of Ephesus, but otherwise I quite enjoyed it.  It made this prosperous vibrant ancient capital city come alive.

There was a big tree in the little tea shop adjacent to the gift shop.

We spent the balance of the day reading and relaxing in our hotel room.  We stayed at the Hotel St. John which had beautiful furnishings and comfy beds, in addition to being well located for walking around Selcuk and clean.

Monday morning we got up to chilly rainy weather, so we piled into the X-Trail and headed for home.  Selcuk is about 6.5 hours from our home on the Saros, so we expected to be home by suppertime.

However, when we got to Izmir, we discovered the highway from Izmir to Manisa was closed and there was snow on the cars coming from that direction. Using the map and sat nav we found a different route out of Izmir and got on the road to Bergama.  We stopped in Bergama for a conference and for lunch. Johanna was all for stopping at Bergama for some site seeing, but Cam was anxious to get home.  So we got back in the car and set out again.  In an hour's time our rainy coastal drive turned into a mountain highway drive, complete with snow and rock slides.

There wasn't a lot of snow on the roads, but they were slick.  About 5:30 Cam checked in with a colleague who told us that the ferries across the Marmara were cancelled.  The journey from Bandirma to Biga, just 74k, took us all of two hours. We prayed and slid our way down a couple of long hills, surrounded by big trucks in the dark.  Using the sat nav, we were able to find a hotel in Biga and there we sat for two days, waiting for the roads to clear and the ferries to sail.

Domino's Pizza delivery scooters lined up outside the Biga location.

Biga's new mosque. According to one Turkish tour guide, Turkey has more mosques than any other country.

Tuesday, January 19.  Nicole in front of our "otel".
We were all glad to get home Wednesday afternoon. We stopped long enough in Gelibolu for Sam to pick out a birthday cake, and for Cam to pick up car insurance paperwork.  There was still a bit of snow in some of the ditches along the highway, but nothing around our place. The house was like a meat locker.  It took most of two days for us to get it warmed up.  Oh how I miss central heating.