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seeking Christmas

Friday, December 25th, 2009

Istanbul, Turkey

Turkey has had a reputation in recent times of being not particularly friendly to adherents of the Christian religion. We wondered what we’d find.

Christmas Day dawns – bright and early….well, early, but barely light. We are staying right next door to a mosque and the dawn prayer call rouses us from deep sleep.
Merry Christmas!

After checking out their “Christmas stockings”, filled with Turkish bookmark, chocolate bar and surprise toffee apple, we discover the children with noses in journals; this might be Christmas Day, but the strength of what-has-become-our-routine is powerful and they write and illustrate yesterday’s events as breakfast is prepared.
What could be better than thick creamy yoghurt to accompany pastries filled with apple and pistachios for a special breakfast? They are virtually Christmas mince pies!

The yoghurt comes in our-family-sized tubs for our-kind-of-price ~ 3kg for about NZ$5.

“I wonder what Christmas is like in Istanbul,” Rob murmurs as we step out from the hostel. We go out looking for signs of Christmas:

chestnuts roasting over an open fire
but they’re here because it’s winter, not because they’re a Christmas food

another Turkish-but-not-necessarilly-Christmassy food

that one’s not real Christmas either
that is to say, the turkey is real, but we saw it in Pergamum a couple of days ago, not in Istanbul today

Christmas Day is a Friday this year, and so Christmas in Istanbul means watching men streaming into the mosque for Friday prayers at midday, and then sitting in our hostel room listening to the same as they are loudly broadcast towards our window

Santa Claus has made it to Turkey, but not Jesus Christ.
Yesterday as we drove for six hours we listened to a Turkish radio station that was sympathetic to western Christmas tradition… that we mean they were playing Christmas songs. Once we’d heard Frosty the Snowman, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in both English and Turkish, we wondered if there would be any carols. We were rewarded with five different versions of “Last Christmas I gave you my heart” – all in a row, one soppy wailing song after the other. The closest we got to a nativity song was “The Little Drummer Boy” (vague enough to be non-threatening, I guess) and a non-Christmas song that included the word *angel* and could, therefore, be classified as Christmassy. Perhaps the fact that the angel was positively mortal and not at all angelic made it safe enough!

Where was
* O little town of Bethlehem
* Joy to the world
* Hark, the herald angels sing
* We three kings (even if they weren’t kings, and possibly not three of them either!)
* Away in a manger
* Silent Night (even if it was more likely to have been a rowdy one)
* O holy night
* Once in royal David’s city


We’d have thought you might hear *while shepherds watched* here…each day on our road trip we saw shepherds sitting or standing by their flocks, leading them along the roadside or across fields…shepherds have been a concrete reminder of the nativity story for us this year. As was a shepherd’s cloak we saw today in the Grand Bazaar….along with all the treasure we saw there….and our Christmas lunch was also a reminder of this eastern story:

And while Turkey appears reluctant to allow mention of the True Christmas Story, it is preparing to welcome in a new year, ironically, the date of which is intrinsically linked to the person, Whose miraculous birth seems to be ignored here.

Lest we forget

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Istanbul, Turkey via the Gallipoli Peninsula


Impressions from the peninsula:

* the sheer number of cemeteries sprinkled along the coast

* the rugged countryside

* the mud in the trenches (trying to clean shoes before getting back into the cars
   seared this fact into the kids’ minds more than any written description ever will)

* the grand monuments

* loneliness, honour, freedom, courage, sadness, loss

* that this is our history

And then we drive the 350km back to Istanbul around the peninsula. Long straight roads, distinctive housing different to the other three days of this mini road trip (colours very similar to Provence, but deeper – coral, burgundy, olive, salmon, teal, mustard; semi-detached houses with yards), army tanks, the sea, rolling hills, yet another beautiful sunset.
We drive into Istanbul at rush-hour, blatting along at 120km/hr trying not to lose each other in the impatient lane-changing traffic, and knowing that we are running half an hour late – I knew I wasn’t enjoying it, but upon our arrival even Rob exclaimed, “That was so stressful”!! Stressful, yes, but also a bit of an adventure adrenaline surge!

Please excuse the lack of information about Gallipoli….the author is still in recovery mode and it took every ounce of energy to not crawl into bed, but stay up and put together some collages instead – the text is bonus, considering the circumstances <wink>

where are we?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009
Eceabat, Turkey (via Pergamum and Canakkale) Immediately after breakfast severe cramps grip my stomach. Could it be the super-salty pickles we just ate with our eggs and tomatoes? Surely not that quickly! Is it perhaps the pide we ate for ... [Continue reading this entry]

three days ago (magical moments)

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Brasov, Romania Some days you wake up and you have no idea that the day is going to be filled with surprises and magical moments. Saturday was one of them. Because we were invited to a local church on Sunday, the ... [Continue reading this entry]

Jgirl15, the first baby (or The Eldest)

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Brasov, Romania written by Jgirl15 


I really hope no one asks me what the one thing I enjoyed most about our trip is, because its an almost unanswerable question! There’s no ONE thing. ... [Continue reading this entry]


Tuesday, December 1st, 2009
Brasov, Romania December first always signifies the beginning of our Christmas preparations. A year ago we were in Laos, the most non-Christian country we have visited. This year, it’s Romania, and we have six months of frequent church-visiting behind us. One of the ... [Continue reading this entry]

intergenerationalism (soapbox)

Monday, November 30th, 2009
Brasov, Romania Please note this post is written by the Crazy-Mama of the family. The Sensible-Father does not necessarily share all the sentiments! Here’s a little girl and her great-grandmother. Mother and grandmother were there too, but we didn’t get a picture ... [Continue reading this entry]

back to town

Sunday, November 29th, 2009
Brasov, Romania It was so easy to get out of the habit of going to church on a Sunday. Here it has been easy to slip back into the habit. But it’s a habit with a difference. The church “family” ... [Continue reading this entry]

“Don’t go to Romania,” they said. “Especially not for a whole month,” they urged.

Saturday, November 28th, 2009
Pitesti, Romania Before arriving in Romania, we spoke to countless Romanians, all of whom were most disparaging about their capital city, Bucharest, and most of whom were unimpressed with the rest of the country as well. Once we arrived here, ... [Continue reading this entry]

asking the right questions

Monday, November 23rd, 2009
Brasov, Romania You’ve got to know what questions to ask. On both Saturday and Sunday I asked different people how Romania has changed over the past hundred years. You could ask that question in New Zealand and likely receive a response ... [Continue reading this entry]