Font of knowledge: the Black Lions Library of Siwa Oasis

Carved stone sign for Black Lions Library
This charming stone sign for the Black Lions Library is actually located inside the library compound, and is not visible from the street.

We’ve been spending time in the Black Lions Library over the past couple of weeks. It’s a real treasure: a quiet, relaxing little library, with a good collection of books about Siwa Oasis in various languages. You can also find books on other Egyptian topics: history, archaeology and the geography of this vast and varied country.

Black Lions is not a lending library, but you can sit and read for as long as you like. Alan has been reading “Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians” by Edward Lane, published in 1836, while I’ve been reading “Oasis: Siwa from the Inside, Traditions, Customs and Magic.” Written by Fathi Malim, it’s the only book about Siwa Oasis written by a Siwan person.

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Getting a PCR test at the airport in Istanbul

This is the card that shows you how to check your Covid-19 test results. I covered my personal bar code with a bit of paper.

We’ve been through our share of bureaucratic processes in Turkey. Sometimes it’s easy and fast, sometimes it’s more complex and not so fast. So imagine our delight to find that getting a PCR test at Sabiha Gökçen Airport is quick, simple and very well organized. (Bet that’s the first time you ever saw the words “delight” and “PCR test” in the same sentence!)

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Ikamet: how to get your residence permit in Turkey

Turkey is a wonderful place to live. That’s what we felt after just a few weeks in Finike, a small city on the Aegean coast. So we decided to apply for a residence permit, also known as the ikamet. (İkamet means “residence” in Turkish.)

Though the process is fairly straightforward, there are a lot of details, lots of opportunities to make mistakes, and none of the information we found online was 100% complete or 100% accurate. That’s why I decided to write this post – to provide a complete list of documents and an accurate list of the steps you need to take, in the right order.

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Bazlama and the quest for garlicky perfection

Small bazlamas the size of English muffins. Plus tomatoes, Asian pears and the wifi router.

Bazlama is my favorite bread in Turkey. It’s round and can range in size from English muffin (or what we Americans call an English muffin) up to about 10 inches across. Sometimes bazlama can be made even larger, like for a party or event.

Bazlama resembles English muffins in texture, too. The outer surface is a little chewy, and the inside is light, almost spongy, with a delicate flavor. It’s made with yeast, with olive oil and yogurt to lend moisture; the yogurt also helps it rise more and gives bazlama that wonderful crumb, so perfect for holding butter or melted cheese.

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New Year’s Day in Finike, southern Turkey

We celebrated New Year’s Day in Finike, a small town on the southern coast of Turkey, with a walk to Limyra, the ruins of an ancient city located between a couple of rural villages.

Lycian ruin at Lymira

It was just our second day in Finike, and after a week in Istanbul, we were eager to take a long walk of the kind we like best: quiet roads, open vistas and a few discoveries. We had the added pleasure of being accompanied by a friendly and adorable dog for much of our explorations.

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Coronavirus diaries: It’s so quiet

The clean water of the Willamette River reflects the clear blue, clean skies that are one of the effects of the coronavirus shutdown.

Have you noticed the quiet? I certainly have. Every morning, as the pale-peach tinge of dawn displaces the slate-blue night lying between dark silhouetted tree tops, I lie in bed and listen to birds calling. There are so many of them, and their calls are so varied, each distinct from the next.

I can’t remember many places with such bird-filled dawns. Papershali, Uttarakhand, where we lived too far from the road to hear any traffic. Vancouver Island, just a few minutes’ walk from the shoreline of Haro Strait. The Olympic National Forest, the summer my sister and I went backpacking together. There may be other places I’m not remembering just now, but one thing I do know: It’s rare to wake up to the complete absence of sound from cars, trucks or trains.

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Coronavirus diaries: Yes, I’m baking

Look at this texture!

Like everyone else, I’ve been baking since we stopped being able to travel, meet with friends, go to coffee shops, go to bookstores or do much of anything else outside the home (other than taking long walks). I just invented a new muffin recipe (based on one I found online) that I think is absolutely delicious, so I’m sharing it here. It contains no eggs, because I can’t eat eggs, so I hope anyone else who avoids eggs will find and enjoy it. I’ll also provide some notes on how to make the recipe completely vegan.

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Coronavirus diaries: staying connected while socially distancing

I should start by saying the term “social distancing,” seems all wrong to me. A friend said the other day on Facebook that we really should call it “physical distancing,” because that’s what it needs to be: the keeping of a safe physical distance between us to avoid catching, or transmitting, the coronavirus.

But we shouldn’t be socially distant – not at all. In fact, we should make greater efforts to be socially close right now: smile at one other, say it’s a lovely day, stop for a friendly chat. You can do all of that at a distance of six, even eight feet – and it’s nourishing to exchange energy with our fellow humans.

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Nights at the opera in Vientiane, Laos

Chinese opera actor, Vientiane, Laos.  His makeup is like a mask, his gestures tell the story.
Notice how heavy makeup makes the actor’s face look like a mask.

Serendipity. It’s one of the wonderful things about travel. You’re walking back to your room after dinner, when the sound of clashing cymbals and high-pitched singing draws you to the end of your street.  

We crossed the the busy road separating us from the riverside park that borders the Mekong River in Vientiane, Laos, to discover a full-blown Chinese opera in progress. At first, it was nearly a sensory overload: extremely loud music, bright costumes, lively movement, lots of glittering gold, wafts of incense. And an audience that came and went at will – rearranging the plastic chairs as they wished, leaving to chase small children or buy snacks, holding up their mobile phones to capture video – yet despite all this activity, raptly following every line and movement.

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