Eli was invited to present a plenary talk at the Middle East ELT convention, housed at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, so we spent a few days in Turkey.


Our plane was late leaving Seattle, so we missed our connection in Chicago, had a huge layover in Munich, and didn't get to Ankara until after 2:00 am. From the time we arrived at the airport in Seattle until the time the plane landed at Ankara: 31 hours. We got into the guest lodgings a little after 3:30 am. Eli had to give the opening plenary for the conference at 8:30 am that day.


The conference was well-organized, and well-run. One evening we had dinner al fresco in a fashionable area outside of Ankara. In the evening, it got pretty cold, so the restaurant staff provided blankets for everyone.

The meat was roasted on a spit, and quite delicious.

Streets of Ankara

Ankara is not really a touristy place. It is the seat of government and has some of the better universities in the country. Here's a street scene from Ankara. The fortification in the background is Ankara castle. Roman ruins also dot the downtown area.

Teach a man to fish...

The leading quotation in Eli's presentation was:

"The fact is that while without grammar very little can be conveyed, without vocabulary nothing can be conveyed." D.A. Wilkins (1972).

In Ankara, outside of the university, we didn't come across anybody who spoke English. We had maybe a dozen phrases of Turkish to work with, including "hello" "I don't understand" "please" "thank-you" and "where is the bathroom?" They didn't get us very far. For example, we were unable to convey to a taxi driver that we wanted a receipt. Language failed, charades failed. The organizer of the conference, Zeynep, helped us out. Fiş (pronounced "fish") was the word we wanted. Thus armed, we got fiş from every subsequent taxi ride.


Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul -- located on the Bosporus, which links the Black Sea with, eventually, the Mediterranean. Part of Istanbul is in Europe, part in Asia. Location, location, location.

Centrally located? Yes! Quiet? No!

We stayed at one of two Faros Hotels in the area. The staff was helpful and the restaurant was one of the better ones in the area.

Two doors down was a shop selling every imaginable variety of fresh Baklava and Turkish Delight. Best of all, though, we were just a block from SultanAhmed Square, home of both the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

Here's the Hagia Sophia -- a church from 360 AD to 1453 AD, a Mosque from 1453 (fall of Constantinople to Sultan Mehmed II's Muslim troops) to 1931, and a museum currently.

Here's a couple shots of the interior.

You'll notice that the script inside is Arabic. All the street signs are in Roman script. After WWI, with the fall of the Ottoman empire, Kemal Attaturk pushed language reform and changed the script for Turkish from Arabic to Roman. It's hard to imagine all the changes he pushed through at that time -- abolishing the sultanate, the caliphate (religious leadership), forbidding the wearing of the fez (red cylindrical cap that was a symbol of status and authority), requiring everybody to have a last name, and on and on.

Here's Eli in front of the Blue Mosque.

Here's another shot of the imposing structure. The obelisk in the foreground dates from Roman times and was old at the time it was imported from Egypt.

The Blue Mosque is the 2nd largest mosque in Istanbul. It can accomodate 8,000 people praying at once. The larger one, 10,000. To get inside, we had to take off our shoes and carry them in little plastic bags. The tile work is what gives the mosque its name. You'll notice that there are no pews. Muslim worshippers bring their prayer mats and line up, kneeling on the floor.

Tiles and Caligraphy

Representational art -- paintings of people, animals, landscapes, etc. -- is a no-no in Islam, so there wasn't much of it. There was, however, amazing tile work and clever caligraphy.

Excuse me. Hello. Where are you from? You need a carpet.

In Istanbul, English speakers were easy to find. In fact, they found you, like it or not. Just about every time you walked past a shop or restaurant, in blocks that were solid with shops or restaurants, you were invited in English (and German) to buy something, with varying degrees of insistence. This was probably the most off-putting aspect of the whole city.

Two of the most interesting shopping areas were the Grand Bazaar, the world's oldest and largest covered market, and the Spice Market.

Street Walkers

The streets of Istanbul are full of stray cats. Who knew? They roam the parks, the sidewalks, the window ledges, the awnings of shops, the squares, the walls, the beaches, the gardens, the old palace. You name it. Several times we ate at a sidewalk cafe with felines circling under our chairs.

The up-side, I guess, is that we didn't see a single rodent anywhere. Well, there was this squirrel....


A pretty critical and strategic waterway, also a nice place for day cruises. Here are a couple of shots of Istanbul from the water.

This couple was on our cruise. He spent most of the time sleeping, and she spent most of the time texting.

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink

Istanbul is surrounded by water, all of it salt. One of the most interesting sites we visited was the Basilica Cistern, the largest of several hundred underground cisterns. The Romans piped water into the city from a forest several kilometers away via aquaducts (parts of which you can still see in the city) and stored it in these cisterns. This one could hold over 100,000 tons of water

There were a couple of Medusa head carvings at the bottom of pillars. One was upside down, one on its side. We figured they just salvaged building materials from some other project. They would have been underground and underwater. No tourists with cameras at the time.

Archeological Museum

Me, in front of one of the many sarcophagi.

The Archeological Museum is full of old, old, old stuff. Really old. One of the most fascinating exhibits, I thought, was cuneiform texts, pressed with a stylus into clay. This is one of the earliest known forms of writing.

One of the things that struck me was how small the writing is. No bifocals in those days. Here's a shot for perspective. The above tablet is circled below.

Here's an interesting one -- the oldest surviving peace treaty, dated 1274 BC, between Hittite and Egyptian rulers.