Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kitten Update + Nocturnal Visitor

Our five kittens are doing well and growing rapidly. They are little bundles of monster, racing around the garden and through the vegetable planters, tackling each other. They're about eight weeks old now and their eyes have just changed from blue to blue-green; they're mostly eating real cat food now and we thought they'd be ready for adoption by now, but they seem happy together. We don't really have any potential parents for them right now (except me) so together they'll stay.

When I went out to feed them last night, I sat outside with them for awhile, as I usually do. (They like to climb on me and then, later, sleep on me, as you can see.) They had all finished eating and were racing around in the half-darkness. I heard a noise over at the bowls and when I looked over, contact-less, all I could see was this black lump eating the food. It turned out to be...a little porcupine. Even though we live in the middle of the city, they're around; I've often heard something rustling in the garden and I suspect it lives in the surrounding ivy. Anyway, the kittens became curious and two of them approached the bowl; mama cat wasn't around so I got nervous and made Cagatay come out and chase it away. (He really is a great boyfriend; Sunday afternoon, he also picked up a dead bird and its various pieces that one of the kittens was gnawing on.)  He threw some water at the porcupine and it trundled away, but I suspect it will be back for more free food.
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Hanging Out in Bebek

My aunt and her husband were passing through Istanbul for a couple of days last week, on their way to join a church tour of Biblical sites based out of Izmir, and after a few communication woes, we managed to meet up with them last Monday, their last night, for a drink at the Bebek Hotel, on the Bosphorus. Bebek itself, the neighborhood, is pretty swank and the hotel/bar is also apparently a place to see and be seen (though it didn't strike me as particularly fancy). Cagatay says it's a place where married men like to bring their young mistresses. :)

The bar terrace was packed when we arrived at 7:15pm, which surprised me on for a Monday night. There wasn't a table left but we soon got lucky and scored one on the water. We hung out for about an hour and a half , enjoying mojitos and the Bosphorus view, until they had to leave for dinner. (Only Greg is drinking wine, which is not that surprising I guess since he owns a winery in Washington state; I wrote an article about him in 2007. Wow, 2007 - seriously?)

I am constantly amazed by the Bosphorus, by the history and myths that surround it. The ancient Greeks believed that the straits were the edge of the world and so only the bravest (or the most desperate) would try to pass through - Jason (of Argonaut fame) cunningly tricked the thought-to-be crushing rocks in order to continue on his quest for the Golden Fleece while Zeus' lover Io got turned into a cow and crossed the Bosphorus attempting to escape the gadfly tormenting her. Now, it's this chaotic waterway, filled with both these little tour boats and huge cargo ships making their way between the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea and the world.

So, not surprisingly, after we wrapped up at the hotel, Cagatay and I decided to stroll along the water. There's a nice, wide pathway that runs along it and I love walking there because you pass all kinds of things - historical sites, fancy Ottoman houses, restaurants, crazy people, etc. That night was particularly beautiful as we managed to catch that gorgeous sunset/twilight time. We soon came upon the Rumeli Hisari, a strategically placed fortress built in 1452 which the Ottomans used to capture Constantinople the next year, putting a final end to the Roman Empire.

I haven't been inside the fortress yet - apparently there's not all that much - but I remember it from, er, Ali's season of The Bachlorette, when she takes some of the guys there to compete for her affections through olive-oil wrestling. Yes, I'm completely serious. Pin It

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Views of Istanbul

I get pretty excited when we pass the major historic sites of Istanbul - and we've done it a fair amount the last three weeks, either on the bus/ferry or in a car. Of course all the locals could care less which strikes me as amusing, amazing, and normal all at once.

The top left photo is of the Blue Mosque, finished in 1616 and incidentally the first place some random Turkish guy tried to pick me up last summer (ah, how it holds a special place in my heart). I took the photo during last weekend's ferry ride to Buyukada. The photo at top right is in Maslak, across the street from Cagatay's office - I liked the contrast of the modern office buildings with the mosque, which seems to describe Turkey perfectly.

I took both bottom photos this past weekend as we made our way by Metrobus to the Asian side of Istanbul to meet up with Cagatay's sister and nephew. Both are views of the Bosphorus - the land masses on the right side of both photos is Europe, on the left is Asia.
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Wedding in Buyukada

Alright, so back to where I left off, if I can remember what I was going to say...

We arrived in Buyukada just before 3 p.m., well in time for the evening's wedding. We walked around a bit, had pide (Turkish pizza, my favorite food) next to a fish stand with some of Cagatay's friends, and had just settled in at the hotel pool when we got a message from the groom to join them asap at the wedding venue, a beautiful b&b (their words: intercultural relaxation center) called Naya. It was too far to walk so we went by horse-drawn carriage.

As it turns out, Turkish weddings are apparently a little more interactive (though of course this is based on my one experience). When we got there, the bride AND the groom were up on the balcony with various close friends and family just hanging out, having some drinks, and enjoying the time all together. The bride was in her wedding dress; I was shocked even though I am not generally one for superstitions. After awhile, everyone drifted downstairs to the lawn and bar area where wine was being served, and more guests arrived. About an hour later, the ceremony started - the bride and groom came down together, arm and arm, and made their way to the dais on the lawn. The actual ceremony lasted about five minutes - the officiant asked them each a couple of preliminary questions (name, place of birth, and father's name, I believe), the "do you take" part, and that was pretty much it.

That part finished, things went back to cocktail hour as the bride and groom then circulated among the guests, receiving congratulations. The bride had a little bag in which she collected gold coins (in pouches), the traditional wedding gift.

From then on, the wedding resembled an American affair with a buffet dinner and dancing to a D.J. I think we went back to to hotel around 1 a.m.

The next morning, after breakfasting on the balcony of our hotel, we spent most of the next day back at Naya with the bride, groom, and friends. The island was still packed with tourists and as a result, there were at least 100 people in line in the relentless heat waiting for a carriage. As I mentioned, Naya was too far to walk so we ended up renting a bike...a tandem bike. Oh yeah.

We spent most of the day at Naya, just hanging out around the garden and chatting. It was an enjoyably lazy Sunday. At 4 p.m., everyone (about 20 people) headed back into the main part of town for a late lunch/early dinner at a fish restaurant. (Not being a fish eater, I may have made a pide pit-stop along the way.) I've been to fish restaurants here twice and both times, instead of separate meals, the waiter just brings a slew of dishes - some fish, some veg - and keeps the raki flowing, and everyone digs in to the communal offerings.

But alas, all things must come to an end...we took an evening ferry, crossing the Sea of Marmara back to Istanbul
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Weekend in Buyukada

We spent a lovely weekend on nearby Buyukada, to attend the wedding of Cagatay's friends Berke and Ipek. Buyukada is the largest island in the Princes' Islands group (no surprise it's the largest - buyuk means big and ada means island in Turkish) and visible from Istanbul on a good day.

We took the ferry on Saturday morning from the Kabatas pier; it took nearly two hours since we stopped at the other islands first, and the ferry was absolutely packed with Istanbul residents and tourists, a number in burkas or niqabs, heading to the beach for the weekend.  (Though I use the word "beach" lightly - from what I've seen, Turkey has almost no sandy beaches, mostly it's just rock/cliff and then ocean. And the water is freezing!) It was so packed that we had to sit inside, and we passed the time playing Risk on our iPad. 

I had no idea what Buyukada would look like and when we arrived, the first thing I saw was this huge ferry terminal covered in vibrant blue tiles. (According to Lonely Planet, it was built in 1899.) From there, you walk up the short street lined with ice cream shops to the center of "town," the squat clock tower that all the streets seem to radiate from. This area was COMPLETELY packed but once we got out of that compact circle of mayhem, the island became this charming, beflowered, lost-in-time place. (The New York Times, incidentally, ran a story about the island in the Friday paper under the headline "A Turkish Idyll Lost in Time.")

I think the "lost-in-time" bit stems from two main things: the architecture and the lack of cars. Whether by purpose or design, a lot of the gorgeous Ottoman architecture has been preserved so the island feels very historic and authentic. Cagatay says that any time they want to film a movie set in the past, they come here. Cars are also not allowed so except for the odd service vehicle, you get around by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage (called faytons).

We stayed at the Splendid Otel, a grand, domed place that has hosted Ataturk and the Shah of Iran (according to photos in the atrium) and Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII (according to the New York Times). While our room definitely could have used an update, we did have a partial sea view and the pool looked incredibly inviting. (On the left is the hotel from the pier; on the right, the view from our window.)

We didn't have much time to explore, either the pool or the island, since we were there for the wedding...but it's an easy day trip and we'll probably come back in the fall when the weather is still nice but the tourists are gone (says the tourist).

More about the actual wedding in the next post...
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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

At Home, with Kittens

Turkey has a lot of stray cats and dogs - you see them everywhere, lounging on the sidewalks, napping under cars, or digging through the trash. They obviously don't belong to anyone and yet they're sort of like community pets because people kinda take care of them and feed them. (Though it would probably be much more effective to pool the money and neuter them, no? The city has made some effort - some cats have a clipped ear - but clearly it's not made much of a dent judging by the number of kittens around...)

We've apparently just closed out another mating season here and as a result, have a number of kittens around our neighborhood. My boyfriend and I are taking care of one batch, stationed just outside our window in the garden. Our mama cat has five kittens and they are just as precious as can be. They're about six weeks old and have just started to race around the garden, tearing after one another (and leaves - they like to bat at leaves). I adore them and spend hours a day (literally) outside with them...with my birthday coming up, I'm hoping one or two will find a permanent home with us. I mean, look at that face...how could you resist?
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Monday, July 11, 2011

Hello World (from Turkey!)

Ah, blogging...truth be told, we have a love/hate relationship. But this go-around, I will try to focus more on the love as I document my adventures living in Istanbul.

I've been here two weeks now - I'm unpacked, over the jetlag, still feeling like a visitor (and a moron when people try to speak to me in Turkish), but ready to dig in to this chaotic, historic city... Pin It