Tourists are so Funny!

There is this small village in Turkey called Olympus. Up the hill from the village of Olympus is a hill with burning rock – where methane slowly seeps out from underground and burns at the surface. The hill is called Caldiera.

Naturally, in our open touristic state of mind – we put 1+1 together and conclude that this must be the home of the Olympic flame – which is a great story. The site posts a billboard telling the story of a race run from the hill to the sea with flaming torches – signed by the Santa Claus Society. Our hosts remain tactfully quiet, which provokes comments from me about the Greeks, who probably made up some lame story to claim that they own the flame. 

They laugh.

According to the internet, the modern Olympic flame is lit from the sun at the temple of Olympus at the Acropolis to symbolize purity.
I still like the story of the burning hill…
PS There were also ruins of a Byzantine church – with the remains of friezes – at the site. Free to touch. Cool. Old. Very old.


The Call to Prayer

My father lived in Pakistan in the early 50’s and talked about people stopping in the street and praying when they heard the call to prayer.
As we travelled through Turkey, the call to prayer punctuated the day – sometimes melodious, sometimes through loudspeakers that had seen better days, and once in the middle of the night a very loud drum, waking people up to eat before dawn.
The calls are broadcast from minarets, and part of my routine became a photo of a minaret around 4pm. The calls are repeated 5 times a day, with an extra one during Ramadan. For a period of time after the first world war, when Ataturk led the creation of modern Turkey, the calls were given in Turkish, but in the last 30 years they have reverted to Arabic.

From our bedroom in the Rose Garden Hotel  

From a small alley behind the Hagia Sofia


From the car on the way home from Side to Antalya

Close to the food and clothes bazaar in Antalya


On the bus to Fethiye

The Blue Mosque

This reminds me of the traditional latin mass in the Catholic church, and of the changes in religion that came with the translation of the bible into the vernacular – while there are many possible translations, people have a closer connection to their religious practice when the language is personal.
We had many conversations about the ways and means that political organizations and governments can distance people from education and critical thought. The change from Turkish to Arabic in the call to prayer, and the adoption of more conservative dress among “devout” muslims seem to be political rather than spiritual actions, designed to repress freedom of thought and education. One story I liked was witnessed by one of our new diving friends.
At the recent LGBT/gay pride demonstration in Istanbul, one of the women stripped naked, and a woman in a burka embraced and kissed her. Somehow, this encapsulates the complexity of the Turkish dialogue. Many centuries of different civilizations have built the culture and the landscape and the language. The country is a bridge from West to East, with Greece and Europe as neighbours to the west and Syria, Iran, and Iraq to the east. The politics provide a third dimension to the dialogue, with Ataturk’s western ideas venerated in many statues, photos, and banners – in contrast with the current more conservative agenda.
In Istanbul, we saw many women wearing the black outer garment, but very few with covered faces, and we frequently glimpsed blue jeans under the long black clothes, or eye make-up much more expressive than what we would expect to see at home in Canada.
Rebecca and I both like to find the “safe place to stand” in a foreign country – dressing in ways that are respectful to the local norms. Here, there is so much complexity that this seems impossible. Ultimately, we concluded that there is no one safe place to stand, but a changing kaleidoscope of ideas that depend as much on the social grouping as on the time and the place.

Hiking in Turkey is All About the Rocks

On Tuesday night we hiked up an old road – built for trading olive oil by the Lycians and improved by the Romans. There are still olive trees on the hills. At the top of the road, we found a nomad’s tea shop, a Roman temple, city hall, and cistern. The temple was built with marble from at least 200km away and the latin inscriptions are still clear. Right next to the Roman temple stood a Byzantine church. Over the hill sits another cistern from the Ottoman era, still in use. We were welcome by a goatherder and his wife, formally fed tea made from the sage bush in their yard, and invited to buy spoons made from sandalwood, belts woven from goat hair, goat bells, and wild honey. Our new Turkish friends on the boat are curious and open and enjoy being active outdoors – much like our Czech relatives and our Canadian friends – but against a backdrop of antiquity rather than against our Canadian landscape of wilderness, wildflowers, and wildlife. Here, hiking is all about the (very, very) old rocks.

Written July 14, Posted July 19


Andrew and Mehmet looking at a Roman rock


Latin inscription – what does it say?


Roman or Byzantine? Our Turkish friends can tell….


Ottoman era cistern (water storage). Water storage is a big deal for serving merchant ships


Hiking on a Roman road first built by the Lycians – now the Lycian Way hiking trail. Note the olive tree – bottom left.


Life on the Seahorse – cruising and diving on the Aegean Sea

17 of us slept under the stars, woke at 7am for pilates and swim in the sea before 8am breakfast, or slept in (including the instructor). Then eat at 8am, move the boat, dive at 10, swim or snorkel after diving, rest in the shade, 12:30 lunch, nap or read or chat while the boat moves to a new dive site, dive between 3 and 4pm, swim, shore walk at 7 (sometimes), watch the sunset over the Turkish coastline, 9pm dinner with 6 mezes and 4 mains, drink tea or beer and chat with friends, fall asleep under the stars by 10:30. All to the rocking motion of the boat with sea breezes and as much or little sun as you like. There is nothing bad about this.

“Old” Just Got 10 Times Older

In Alberta, old was a “turn of the century home” not so very long ago. In England, my idea of “old” multiplied to hundreds of years old. In Antalya, old is measured in centuries. I kind of knew this was coming, but it is a bit mind boggling.

On Monday, Inci took us to explore the old town and I asked her when Antalya was founded. She wasn’t quite sure, but Hadrian’s Gate was built to welcome the Roman Emporer here in 136 AD. I concluded that Antalya has ALWAYS been here. The wheel ruts made by the Roman chariots and wagons are about 4 inches deep.

On Tuesday, we went to Side to see the Temple of Apollo and Athena. There are several such temples scattered around the ancient world, in case you think this is a bit confusing. This site dates back to the second century BC – so that would be 4000 years old – and there is also an amphitheater and a huge mess of leftover city that you can explore at your leisure. Being IN an amphitheater is Wow.


Touring with Visitors – Inci and her Mom


Princess Rebecca…she wouldn’t let me post the goofy picture


Side, Roman Amphitheater


Rebecca commented to Inci that she must have seen these places many times…the words old rocks were upgraded to ancient rocks….less pretentious than Antiquities.

Yesterday, we went to the beach at Phaselis. This is like a provincial park with a really nice quiet beach, no beach chairs and umbrellas, and very few tourists. Lots of familes – and also the site of an ancient harbour founded in 700BC by the Phaseliens – who apparently were not very good at repaying their debts. Pirates took over the harbour at one point, and later Hadrian was also welcomed with a gate – which still stands. The harbour eventually turned into a swamp and the site was abandoned. Our delightful tour guide treated this as quite incidental – not worth mentioning actually.

I have tried many times in my life to go see a Roman aqueduct. There are a few of them in the UK and in France, but somehow this fascination never worked out. In the last few days, I have seen several. We went a good half hour walk out of our way to find the first one in Istanbul, then found several others scattered around our walks, but Phaselis really made the point.  The aqueduct is a car park. In Turkey, Antiquities are just about as common as potatos on PEI, and we are definitely the wide eyed visitors!!!
After Phaselis, we climbed a hill in Olympus to see the burning ground where gas escapes…

Aqueduct at Phaselis

Istanbul – a gentle chaos

St. Petersburg and Prague and many other European cities are the same way – mornings are quiet – but evenings are riotous and filled with people getting out and getting together – and blowing bubbles at midnight.

I have had many colleagues arrive in Canada over the years from this part of the world, and from all parts of Europe. The one thing that seems to startle them the most is the lack of street life at night. As a Canadian, I have always found this a bit confusing. Evenings, for us, seem to center around family and the warmth of home, and service of one kind or another.

Istanbul is full of life until late at night. We are here during Ramadan, staying close to the Blue Mosque. As we make our way home late in the evening, the square is full of families breaking the fast and picnicing together on the grass – as full as Folk Festival – waiting for late prayers, and sharing a time of rest and joy. Last night, we went across the Golden Horn to a more secular part of the city and walked along a shopping boulevard with many others, enjoying the fresh air, the lights, and the sense of a cosmopolitain city. On our way, we passed through another park filled with people – couples, families, friends – all  out in the fresh air, enjoying the open space.

There is much more to write about this gentle, chaotic city – filled with an beautiful yet uneasy mix of cultures – but there is so much to embrace…the jumble of the Grand Bazaar, the streets filled with color and smells and people, the many mosques and calles to prayer, the foods, the busy working waterways, even the transit system…we will be back.


Philosophers Gathering

The curve of the world turns, with all of that flying…
The first time I flew to Europe in 1986, I had a window seat and saw the sun emerge from darkness to rainbow to daybreak around the curve of the earth. No matter how many times I do this overnight flight, the enchantment of seeing the curve of the earth from high altitude never fades.
…Join the herd for the mad rush…where does everyone come from? …
So many immigration lines, visas, passport stamps, and moments of being herded through with a mass of other migrating humans. My favorite was the official at Heathrow who asked why I was coming to the UK. 
        “To attend a conference.” 

“What do you do for a living?”

        “I am a chemical engineering professor.” I replied, with an involuntary guarded edge to my voice…

“What conference are you going to?” was his stern response. 

        Now I smiled, “The Gordon Conference on Visualization in Science Education!”

He smiled back, “For that, I will call you Professor!”

…I am all but surrounded…Grandfathers and babies…forgive me my unconcealed envy…

So many times we arrived at the airport in Charlottetown, always watching for the moment when my Dad’s stern face would break into a thousand smiles at the sight of his granddaughters and his children. So many times I arrived in a strange country and moved through the arrivals corral, secretly envying fellow passengers being greeted with magical welcoming signs promising a safe delivery to their final destination – and then having one of those signs assigned to me at a conference in Beijing in 2011. Tomorrow, I will go back to the airport in Istanbul to collect Rebecca who is now waiting for her flight out of Toronto.

…We’re philosophers gathering!…
…and yes! So many conferences with colleagues to talk about Mixing, to share ideas and questions and adventures in our host country. This time, at the 15th European Conference on Mixing, we are in St Petersburg…after Warsaw (2012), London (2009), Bologna (2006), Bamberg (2003), and Delft (my first European meeting, in 2000).
The friendships survive this three year cycle, students grow up and have children and grow research groups of their own…good friends start bringing their wives after their children leave home… and then they retire – but keep coming as part of their holidays because it is such a big part of our lives. 

This time, for the first time, three of my former research group members are here as professors – one from Turkey, one from Germany, and one from Alberta. The White Nights of summer mean that the sun is still evident at midnight, so we stay up until 2am every night, celebrating the time together, walking and talking and going to the opera and walking some more. A big thank you to our hosts, who have welcomed us with grace and shared the best that their home country has to offer!

Philosophers Gathering – Sasha, Marcio, Suzanne, Thomas, and Inci