Monday, October 31, 2011

Strolling along the Bosphorus

I had mistakenly thought that the nice weather was gone for the year, but last Sunday turned out to be sunny and warm, so Cagatay and I decided on an outing. (I had been sick pretty much the entire week before.) I already mentioned the flag seller peddling his wares to the street market vendors.

We started the afternoon at Ortakoy, home to the city's most gorgeous mosque.  Unfortunately it's being renovated right now and is covered by a tarp but it usually sits in all its Baroque splendor at the edge of the Bosphorus, right below one of the bridges. It even made the cover of National Geographic Traveler last year. More than that, it holds a special place in my heart as Cagatay and I had one of our first dates there last summer.  

On this particular afternoon, after sitting on one of the benches in the sunshine and watching the young and trendy preen, we had a quick lunch at Kitchenette, one of the restaurants in the square. After that, we took a stroll along the Bosphorus, walking all the way to Bebek. As usual, fisherman lined the pathways. I'm not quite sure why people are always fishing out there in droves as all they ever seem to catch are these tiny little fish; on this day too the water was chock full of jellyfish. See the photo? Now multiply that by a million. (Another reason why I wouldn't be caught dead swimming in the Bosphorus.)


One of the things I love about this particular walk, which we've done with some frequency, is the architecture you pass along the way. There's one area that has rows of gorgeous Ottoman wood houses. In my (mostly-ignorant-of-architecture ) opinion, they're generally very Victorian looking - and I'm not sure if that's a coincidence or there is actually a link.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011


You may or may not know that Turkey has a "Kurdish issue" which I know far too little about to properly explain. (Time does a pretty good job though.) Although there are some 14 million Kurds living in eastern Turkey (and more in northern Iraq), what you mostly hear about is the PKK, the 30-year-old Kurdish terrorist group, which launches little attacks here and there in that area. As I gather, this entire issue seems to have simmered under the surface, in the sense that it always exists but nothing major (or decisive) ever happens.

Last week, PKK attacks killed 24 soldiers in the east, and for whatever reason, the Turkish govenment decided to launch a major offensive in retaliation. As an interior minister told a TV station last week (via the Daily Hurriyet newspaper), "The ultimate goal is to finish off the PKK." With 10,000 soldiers now in the border area, Turkey is now involved in a little bit of a war - although no one seems to be calling it that.

As a result of the now-escalated conflict, Istanbul is awash in red flags. All of a sudden, they're everywhere, strung across streets and hung proudly from balconies. I took the photos below on Sunday, in Ortakoy. The teenage boy was going around to all the vendors in the street market selling flags and from what I could see, people were snapping them up.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Bagdat Street and the Sea of Marmara

Two weekends ago on Saturday, which was perhaps sadly the last nice day of the year, we headed to the Asian side of the city, and ended up taking a late afternoon stroll along Bağdat Street and the Sea of Marmara with Cagatay's sister.

Bağdat Street is the big shopping street on the Asian side, and I think it has every single Turkish and foreign brand available in Turkey - MAC, Marks & Spencer, Mango, Muji, etc - plus a million places to eat and drink. It also seems to be quite the social hub - apparently the ladies dress to impress and everyone is there to stroll and see and be seen. (Cagatay was disappointed that he only ran into two friends.) There's a similar street on the European side called Istiklal where the old buildings tower over you and you feel stuck in the middle of a big city; Bağdat on the other hand feels wide open and leafy.


After we got an ample fill of window shopping, people watching and Starbucks, we headed a couple blocks down to the park that runs along the Sea of Marmara. In the late afternoon light, it was simply gorgeous, and it seemed like half the city was out enjoying the late-summer weather. Families were playing on the playground, dogs were running in the park, teenagers were skateboarding, while everyone else was walking, rollerblading or biking along the path, in addition to the occasional couple lovin' it up on the seawall. It turns out that we may have to move at some unknown point in the future (our landlord is considering selling the apartment) and that day, we felt pretty inspired to consider that area. It's pretty chill over there, and how nice would it be to have easy access to a seaside park?

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Adventures in Cooking: Pappa al Pomodoro

Last weekend, Cagatay and I did absolutely nothing - partially because it was pouring rain out (and had been for the last week) but mostly because he came down with a cold/flu. So, like the good girlfriend that I am, I made him soup. I went with Martha Stewart Living's Pappa al Pomodoro, mostly because I had successfully tackled it once before.

In the version I have, the ingredients are pretty simple: olive oil, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, bread, tomatoes, chicken stock, and cheese. (Oddly, when I look at the recipe at, it's far more complicated, adding leeks and white wine.) You essentially throw them all into the pot, stir it around some, and 15 minutes later, you have this wonderful, hearty soup.

So far it's worked well, despite my confusion about one major thing: How do you know how much an ounce of bread is without a scale? In my cut-down version (hers serves 6 to 8), the recipe calls for 3 ounces of 1/2-inch cubed bread. I don't know how to translate that into anything; I tried Googling it but got no help there. So instead, I've just winged it. This last time, I stopped when I ran out of bread. Which was this much:

Is that too much? Too little? My guess is that it's way too much. I am desperately waiting for your insight!
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Trending: DIY Glitter Shoes (Three Ways)

You can't surf the Interwebs these days without running into an DIY involving glitter and shoes. Which is awesome - I might own a pair or two (or six) of shoes that have been glittered-up, and now I'm feeling like I should actually tackle this myself. (Running the risk, of course, that I won't be able to stop until absolutely everything in my closet has been be-glittered. I mean, have you seen Martha Stewart's colorful 24-pack palette?!?)

I realized this was an actual trend yesterday when I saw that even Martha has gotten in on the act. According to their blog, she recently showed how to dazzle up a pair of sneakers on her TV show with one of the bloggers from Honestly...WTF, though the result was a little too Atlantic City for me. (And, according to the comments, the sneakers pick up ugly creases after you wear them for a couple of hours.)

More stylish examples have appeared recently on the blogs a pair & a spare and Le.Fanciullle. It seems like all you really need to do this is a blank pair of shoes, ample glitter, and some craft glue.

Now get to it! After all, as the immortal songstress Ke$ha said to Entertainment Weekly, "If I smear glitter on my face [or, er, on my shoes], you don't have a choice - you will be more attracted to me." And isn't that reason enough? Pin It

Adventures in Cooking: Spinach-Ravioli Lasagna

While we were home in August, my mom made an incredible Spinach-Ravioli Lasagna that came from Southern Living (August 2008) via The dish was amazing - thinking about it now makes me want to hop into the kitchen - and she gave me the recipe to try back in Istanbul.

The recipe seems simple enough - it's essentially a pack of baby spinach, store-bought pesto and Alfredo sauces, and frozen cheese ravioli. I thought all of these items would be easily acquirable at the local grocery store. HA HA HA. There wasn't any cheese ravioli so I went for these little flower pod-shaped beef-filled raviolis, which didn't seem like a big deal. The main problem was the lack of Alfredo sauce; Cagatay says it's just not available in Turkey. Which seems odd but there's really no rhyme or reason why some things are available here and some aren't. (In the aren't category, as far as I can tell: onion soup, paprika, frosting, oatmeal, most salad dressings, and now apparently Alfredo sauce and cheese ravioli. But then there's peanut butter, chocolate chips, and the same brand of gnocchi I used to buy in Dallas, which is why I haven't tackled it again.) But I digress. Lacking the Alfredo sauce, we decided to try a powdered mushroom sauce that was in the pasta aisle.

So a couple of nights later, I tackled the recipe, starting before Cagatay got home. I thought I understood the directions on the mushroom package - it seemed simple, just add cold water and stir. But the result was this really watery sauce which just seemed all wrong considering that this is the bottom layer, supporting the next layer, the spinach-pesto mixture. I imagine Alfredo sauce, being pretty thick, would act as a proper layer. At this point, I started to panic and was pretty sure I was going to have to throw the entire thing out.

Cagatay came home just as the spinach layer started to swim in the mushroom sauce and pointed out that the instructions also say to heat to the sauce before cooking with it. Alas. We cooked it up quickly and used the heated version for the rest of the recipe although frankly, it wasn't all that much thicker.

But miracle of miracles, somehow this recipe actually worked...and it was amazing. On the first go-round, it was a wee bit salty (mushroom sauce) and the tops of the raviolis on the top layer had gotten a little crispy. I adjusted both of those factors during the next try (by not using about 1/4 of the sauce and moving my baking rack about halfway through) and then stopped freaking out about how liquedy it was. The yummy results:

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Little Kid Says: Babies Are Sneaky...

For whatever reason, I was thinking about the highly underappreciated Away We Go yesterday. Have you seen it? John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph play an unmarried couple expecting a baby but they feel behind everyone else in notching life's stereotypical accomplishments, and they go on a multi-city trip to figure out where they should move to "start" their lives. There are so many great moments but my absolute favorite is the scene-stealing little kid that they encounter at a hotel while visiting Verona's sister in Arizona:

Umm, yeah, so this post has nothing to do with anything. Except that you should see this movie! Hmm, maybe I'll make Cagatay watch it tonight when he gets home from work. :) Pin It

Climbing the Walls & Istanbul Design Week

When we left the house for Chora Church, we had an elaborate plan in mind that would get us from the church to Istanbul Design Week at the old Galata Bridge. Actually, we had Lonely Planet's plan in mind: In the Istanbul City Guide, they had more or less laid out a path that would get us from the church to the water, via several historic sites (though oddly the book doesn't mention that the neighborhood is borderline seedy).

The Lonely Planet path laid out eight points of interest and we took the route backwards (which actually makes more sense as heading toward the Golden Horn, instead of away, is all downhill), and started about halfway. (The sites we skipped were a spot where you could climb the walls, the Mihrimah Sultan mosque visible on the map, and the Roma neighborhood of Sulukule which doesn't exist anymore).

So after we explored Chora Church (point 1 on the map), we headed to the Byzantine city walls, which had been built Emperor Theodosius II to contain the burgeoning city. The walls stretch from point 2 to 3 and beyond in both directions, but point 2 is more or less where we figured out that you can tackle the steep steps and actually climb UP on the walls. The view from the top was absolutely spectacular - we could see Istanbul Design Week to the left, the skyscrapers in the our general neighborhood straight ahead, and Galata Tower to the right.

[The photos from top left going clockwise: land walls (to the right; you can see a guy on top), me on top of the land walls, Palace of Constantine
Porphyrogenitus, and Istanbul Design Week from the city walls] 

However, there's no path on top of the walls so once we'd taken in the 360 view, we had to climb back down and continue along the street.

Our next stop (point 3) was the ruined Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, which was nothing but a brick exterior that blended into the walls (so much so that we ended up asking a guy on the street though once we saw it, it was obvious). According to Lonely Planet, it was likely part of a larger palace and was built in the late 13th or early 14th century and has since been used as a wild animal menagerie, brothel, and Jewish poorhouse. You can't go into it at all though the guy we met said that sometimes tour guides put up ladders to let the tourists climb up (though after we did see a gate so who knows).

From there, we attempted to reach point 4, the former location of the palace's dungeons. Apparently some of the Byzantine emperors were tortured and murdered there. It was difficult following the specific path laid out in the book because neither the book nor the streets much bothered with street signs, but after wandering through the neighborhood, we eventually found the general location. We couldn't manage to figure out what the dungeons were supposed to be though, if they were against the walls or across the street.

After that, it was just about a block to the Golden Horn and its waterfront park, which was gorgeously illuminated by the amber afternoon light. From there, we could clearly see the Aya Sofya and again the Galata Tower to the right, as well as the Rahmi Koc Museum and its ships directly across the way.


From the park, it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Istanbul Design Week at the old Galata Bridge. We were invited to an event there that started at 8pm, and we probably arrived at 5:45. We'd planned to get there around 6:30 to have time to look at all the exhibits and in truth, we had too much time. One of the newspapers said that organizers aimed to make it "one of the most important events on the European design calendar," but I think they have a long way to go before that happens. (Granted, the newspaper was also a sponsor, so grain of salt.) Mostly because the spaces were often taken up by corporate brands (IKEA, CocaCola, Pinkberry, Red Bull, etc) or filled with student art, neither of which creates a cutting-edge event. However, they did have some fun interactive areas, like at Red Bull where you could make sculptures out of cans. 


We wandered through the event and after we had seen everything, we sat outside on the bridge watching the sunset and waiting for the free french fries and beer (which eventually came and we wonderfully greasy and we left soon after...isn't that terrible?).
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Istanbul's Mosaic-Filled Chora Church

Two Saturdays ago, we took a little field trip to Chora Church (with an unexpected climb up the city's Byzantine land walls) before heading to Istanbul Design Week at the old Galata Bridge. I had been to the church when I was here last summer - amazingly, on my second day in Turkey, I managed to navigate the bus system to do it - but Cagatay had never been. Which is amazing in itself, considering he grew up here.

The currently standing church was built in the 11th century. Its dazzling mosaics and frescoes arrived around 1312, courtesy of its patron Theodore Metochites. After everything went down between the Byzantines and the Ottomans, the church was turned into a mosque and the mosaics and frescoes were whitewashed until the artwork was restored starting in 1948. Today, the church is just a museum.

The church is square in shape, and the first thing you see when you walk in is the parecclesion, which used to hold tombs and is covered in frescoes mainly dealing with death and resurrection. (The third photo in the slide show is a fresco where Christ pulls Adam and Eve out of their tombs.) After you leave this area, it's all mosaics, which still cover almost all of the upper walls and ceilings until you get to the nave which is nothing but bare stone. (The nave has three mosaics but they're all on backings which makes me think they've just been placed there to give visitors something to look at.)

My favorite depiction was that of Jesus healing a leper, mostly because I admired how the artist had interspersed cream-colored and black tiles to make the leper appear afflicted all over his torso. (To be honest, it made me laugh.) Unfortunately though, it was located just inside the inner narthex and didn't show up well in the photo.

There's a slideshow here but it doesn't appear to well, appear, in Google Reader; I think you have to view it through the blog page.

Created with flickr slideshow.
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Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday ride to Rumeli Feneri

A couple of weeks ago (yeah yeah), we took a Sunday motorcycle ride to Rumeli Feneri, apparently Turkey's largest lighthouse, located in the north of Istanbul where the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. In the snip below, I've pinpointed our neighborhood (more or less) in yellow while Rumeli Feneri at the top is circled in red (and by the by, the "Istan" of Istanbul near the bottom lies over the location of the city's main historical sites).

I don't really know why we decided to go up to Rumeli Feneri, except that we'd get to ride along the water and then eventually through Istanbul's treed areas, with the wind figuratively whipping through our hair (since we were wearing helmets and all).


There's not much to do or see when you get there - it's a fairly poor fishing area with just a few cafes with a view for the tourists, which is probably why it only gets a passing mention in the guidebook. 

The lighthouse was built in 1855, during the Crimean War, by the French; there's another lighthouse, Anadolu Feneri, on the opposite side. When the French were building it, they found some kind of holy man's tomb which you can apparently tour but we never saw any sign of it; I only learned about it after, from the newspaper article above, when I was trying to figure what the castle/fortress was and how old it might be.


We stumbled across the castle/fortress by chance, when we spotted it from the sea walls on another bluff, and decided to ride over. Its age seemed indeterminate; it had these old, worn-down looking walls which suggested something like 1770, right next to an old, worn-down looking building which suggested something like 1970. (Google's answers here are unreliable because there are multiple castles in the area though perhaps this one was built by the Genoese in the 17th century...but don't quote me on it.)

The castle sits right against the water and even though it belongs to the military (and was fenced), there were a lot of people just strolling through the open gates, using the grounds as a picnic area. So we did as the Romans do and went in; and with recently purchased soft drinks and chips, we fit right in. We sat on one of the walls for awhile, ate our snack, and admired the view. And while it was nice, it could have been nicer - like a lot of places in Turkey, the area is unfortunately marred by the loads of trash picnickers have left behind.

The weather now is starting to get rainy and cold - it's been pouring rain for the last two days - but hopefully we'll have another chance or two to go on these kind of excursions this fall. Pin It

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Introducing Lucie Lou...

Despite a lot of should-we-shouldn't-we, we decided to get a new kitten. Actually, we didn't decide - rather, Cagatay's sister found her for us at a pet store where she was being fostered and if we hadn't taken her, she probably would have gone back on the street. So we took her - how can you resist a sob story like that? We don't really know much about her previous life except that she's about three months old and a woman found her all alone (and then gave her to the pet shop).

We decided to name her Lucie Lou as it was the only name that we could agree on (I had been pulling for Theodora, a solid cross-cultural name, but Cagatay wasn't into it). For the first few days, Lucie Lou was an absolute terror and I had to watch her constantly to keep her out of trouble. By Wednesday, I had reached the end of my rope and was fully ready to find her a new home...which she apparently sensed because she suddenly calmed down and turned into our now-adorable kitten.

Sadly, all of our other kittens died, even our beloved Mustafa when we were in America. The mother has also disappeared and the vet speculated that she was a lot sicker than she seemed, passing on whatever she had to them, destroying their immune systems, before succumbing herself. :( Pin It