Discovering the wonders of Turkey through photos

turkey Turkey is a historical country filled with culture, beauty, and natural wonders. In fact, there are many interesting facts that many people may not know that help add to the enchantment and splendor of the country, like the fact that the world’s oldest known human settlement can be found in Turkey, two of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World were located in Turkey, and the seven churches cited in the Book of Revelation all resided in Turkey. With such a unique past, it’s not surprising that the country holds so many spectacular and amazing sites. Wander inside the Blue Mosque, an enormous complex that was built from 1609-1616, trek through the unworldly Cappadocia region, or check out the ruins in Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis stands, once one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

To explore the wonders of Turkey for yourself through photos, check out the gallery below.

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Knocked up abroad: foreign baby names in a foreign country

foreign baby namesJust arrived? Read more about pregnancy in a foreign country, Turkish prenatal care, travel in the first trimester, and Turkish superstitions on Knocked up abroad.

“Whatever you do, if it’s a girl, don’t call her Natasha,” was the first bit of advice a Turkish friend gave me about having a baby in Istanbul. While a common and inoffensive name in the US and Russia, in Turkey and many other European countries, Natasha doesn’t have the best connotation. It tends to be slang for, well, a certain kind of professional woman from Eastern Europe, or just a gold-digger; not things with which you want your baby to be associated. Naming a baby is always a difficult decision, but when you live a place where local names sound foreign to you, your own country’s names become foreign names as well.

Since the beginning of my pregnancy abroad, I’ve been certain I wanted to learn the baby’s gender as soon as I could, feeling that enough things were a mystery when having a baby in a foreign country and I didn’t need to add to them. My husband and each of our mothers disagreed, feeling a surprise is nicer, but suddenly my husband came home from work having changed his mind. He explained that he could never get the Turks to understand why he’d want it to be a surprise and try to tell him that he could find out nowadays. “But you know they can tell now? They can see in the ultrasound,” they’d say, perplexed. This is a similar reaction to my questions about cloth diapers or natural childbirth. There’s a newer and better way, they argue, so why wouldn’t we want that?While my husband and I are both American, we initially considered a name to reflect our baby’s Turkish birthplace. We loved Sofia, for Hagia Sofia, and it works with many languages and pronunciations. Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones: Sophia/Sofia is now the most popular baby girl name in the US, meaning that in 2016, kindergartens will be full of Sofias. While we are also big fans of Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, the names Mustafa and Kemal just wouldn’t go over so well in America as they do here. Perhaps Constantine for a boy, in honor of one of the city’s former names? The one season I watched of American Idol with the smarmy contestant Constantine Maroulis ruined that name for me, and I couldn’t deal with a boy nicknamed Connie. Maybe something to reflect our neighborhood of Nişantaşı, but spelling and pronunciation would be tricky in English.

The Turkish alphabet is mostly similar to English (thanks to Ataturk!), with a few notable exceptions. The letter C is pronounced as a J, so the Turkish name Cam is actually more like Jam, but if you add a tail under it, it becomes a “ch” sound. English amight have the “ch” and “sh” sounds, but our keyboards don’t have Ç or Ş. The Turkish alphabet lacks X and substitutes it with “ks,” familiar if you’ve taken a taksi to Taksim Square. There are two forms of I: with the dot sounds like “ee” and without the dot is “eh” or “uh.” Then there’s the tricky Ğ, which has no sound at all, except elongating the vowel before it, often making it a “ya.” Hence the former royal residence and now luxury hotel Çırağan Palace is pronounced “Chuh-ran.” Let’s not forget the pesky umlauts that sometimes accompany O and U, and mean that months after moving here, taxi drivers still don’t know what I’m asking when I say Ortaköy. I won’t even get into vowel harmony, which often changes a letter’s pronunciation entirely, but otherwise Turkish is relatively phonetic.

Language lesson over, there are many names which just don’t translate culturally. The best example is the Turkish boy’s name Ufuk, which sounds perfectly respectable in Turkish, but not so nice in English. Kıvanç is a popular name that sounds nice in Turkish but to English ears “kuh-wanch” sounds like a polite euphemism for a rude body part. Berk is common enough here, but say the name to a Brit and learn what it’s slang for in the UK (idiot is the nicer way to say it).Americans would also snicker at Tuba, Voltan, and Fatih, while Turks would think Adam (meaning man), Dennis (sea, spelled Deniz) Dana (veal or calf), or Erik (plum) are a bit silly. An American/Turkish couple I know have named their son Aslan, which means lion in Turkish and sounds cool in either language but I hope he’s called Lan for short on visits to the US.

Going back to the Natasha problem; after a few months, my Leningrad-born-but-US-naturalized husband decided he wanted a Russian name and only a Russian name for the baby. I immediately nixed names like Svetlana, Vladimir and Olga, giving elaborate descriptions of the sour-faced old Russian masseuses I associated the names with (apologies to any Svetas, Vlads or Olgas reading this, I’m sure you are lovely people).My husband speaks fluent Russian whereas I only know a few basics and curse words, so anything I can’t even pronounce like Nadezhda (long form for Nadia) is out. Nikita is a cool name and while it’s for a boy, the movies and tv shows La Femme Nikita have permanently associated it as a feminine name. Ditto for Sasha, actually a diminutive for Alexander, but better known now as one of the first daughters. I began to call the baby Rasputin partially to mock my husband until it started to actually seem like a viable choice.

In case you wondered, we did finally see our baby’s gender and it turns out we are having a Natasha, er, a girl. I’ve been leafing through the book Russian Fairy Tales as a source if I want to name the baby after a swan maiden or bear hunter’s wife. I imagine we’ll continue to argue about her name until she is born, so if you have good ideas for Russian girls names, I’m open to suggestions. If you want to learn more Russian, Turkish, or other foreign names, check out HearNames.com. Each listing has an audio sample as well if you are still wondering how to say Ufuk without getting slapped.

Image from Cafe Press Turk Onesie store.

Stay tuned for more Knocked up Abroad.

Trinkets and treasures: Istanbul on and off the beaten path


The tourist season in Istanbul is well underway, bringing hordes of tour buses and groups into Sultanahment (the Old City) each day, perhaps even more this year as the Turkish city is currently one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture. Whether you are planning your first visit or your tenth, here is a look at some of the most touristed spots, why you should fight the crowds to see them, and where you can get off the beaten path.

%Gallery-97405%Hagia Sophia
Why go: Istanbul’s star attraction could hardly be overhyped; it is awe-inspiring and worthwhile, period. The sheer size and fact that it was completed in just five years makes it a must-see. Yes, it will be crowded but it’s big enough that you barely notice.
Where else: There is no real comparison to Hagia Sophia, but if you enjoy the murals, plan a visit to Chora Church (aka Kariye Muzesi). While not undiscovered either, the location is outside of the Old City and can be quiet in the off-season and on weekdays.
Getting there: Bus 31E, 37E, 38E or 36KE from Eminönü, or 87 from Taksim, get off at Edirnekapı near the old walls after the sunken stadium.

Blue Mosque
Why go: The city’s most famous active mosque isn’t really all blue, as the interior is covered in tiles of all shades and designs. It’s perpetually filled with rude tourists with uncovered hair talking on cell phones and photographing worshippers (all major mosque no-nos) but if you are seeing Hagia Sophia, it’s right there, the light and colors are lovely, and it’s free. Watch out for the “helpful” guides who will tell you it is closed for prayer and “volunteer” to take you elsewhere; if it is closed to the public, you’ll know it at the door and will have to wait a half hour or so to enter.
Where else: Tucked in a busy street near the Spice Market, the Rustem Pasha Mosque is also decorated with beautiful Iznik tiles but gets few foreign visitors. You may sometimes get the place to yourself, making your visit far more peaceful or even spiritual.
Getting there: From the Spice Market, exit onto Hasırcılar and wander a few blocks past vendors selling everything from coffee to tinfoil to guns; look for an elevated courtyard on your right with a sign for the mosque (camii). From Eminonu, head up Uzunçarşı away from the water, the mosque will be on your left a block or two up the hill.

Topkapı Palace
Why go: In many rooms of the palace, you’ll feel the full court press of people trying to get a good look at exhibits, it’s worth it to see emeralds the size of a baby’s head, over-the-top Ottoman costumes, a bizarre collection of relics, and the reality that life in a harem was nothing like the inside of I Dream of Jeannie‘s bottle.
Where else: While less grand than the other royal residences, Beylerbeyi Palace is a pretty jewelbox of a palace and gives you a nice excuse to visit the Asian side. Only accessible by guided tour, but unlike the European Bosphorus-side Dolmabahçe Palace, you’ll rarely have more than a few other travelers on your English-language tour and the admission is a relative bargain at 10 TL.
Getting there: Ferry over to Üsküdar on the Asian side, where you can take bus 15 to the Çayırbaşı stop right by the big bridge.

Grand Bazaar
Why go: The mother of all tourist traps, it’s hard to say you went to Istanbul without visiting this maze of shops. While quality and value are questionable, it’s an experience to listen to the myriad ways the shopkeepers will try to get your attention (they are very thick-skinned and multilingual). One thing to note besides tourist swag is the “Wall Street” of the Grand Bazaar, a street of Turkish men trading currencies and yelling into their cellphones (thanks to Rick Steves for the tip). Want to actually buy something? Outside the actual covered bazaar lie more streets selling many of the same items without the hassle.
Where else: If you are in the market for a submarine phone or an Ottoman fireplace, Horhor Bit Pazari is your best bet. More of an antiques market than a souvenir bazaar, it’s still fun to wander the hundreds of shops and wonder about the history behind the furnishings.
Getting there: In the very untouristy neighborhood of Aksaray, take the tram to Aksaray, walk towards the metro and head up Horhor Caddesi and look for the sign at Kırık Tulumba Sokak. It can be hard to find so check with your hotel or ask directions when off the tram.

Galata Bridge dining
Why go: The views from the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn are spectacular and unmistakenly Istanbul, but the restaurants on the lower level tend to be overpriced tourist traps. Any place where the waiters try to hustle you into sitting down at their table and the menus are in seven languages should be approached with caution. Better to have a walk along the bridge with the fishermen and stop below for a tea (not the apple stuff, it’s a dead giveaway that you are a foreigner) or beer.
Where else: Waterside cafes are plentiful in the suburbs lining the Bosphorus and while they may also be overpriced, the Turkish locals are spending similar amounts to enjoy the views. Rumeli Hisarı is popular for Sunday brunches and has a cool old fortress to explore, Bebek is trendy and posh, Arnavutköy is full of crumbling Ottoman mansions and fish restaurants, Ortaköy is famous for overstuffed baked potatoes and terrace cafes, and Beşiktaş is crowded with students and commuters having a beer and lounging on bean bag chairs.
Getting there: Ferry schedules are erratic, try buses 22, 22RE, 25E from the tram end or 40, 40T, 42T from Taksim to anywhere along the water. Traffic is often bad along the Bosphorus, so work your way back on foot.

Have a favorite tourist trap or local secret to share? Leave it in the comments.