Istanbul – What we brought home

Pillows

Pillows

We live in a small apartment.  It’s a good size for our city, but small by most U.S. standards and we have to work pretty hard to keep it from getting too cluttered.  This means that when we travel, instead of bringing home tchotchkes, we try to find mementos that are beautiful but also functional.

Living room rug

Living room rug

Our apartment has parquet floors throughout, and we’ve been in need of a few rugs to keep our toes warm and help cut down on the noise for our downstairs neighbors.  We sorted through stacks and stacks of vintage rugs, searching for just the right colors for our decor.  We also picked up a few pillows for the couch and bedroom, and a vivid embroidered scarf for me. We even found a small Turkish coffee pot for the Mister–he’s a bit of a coffee nut.

Pillow and throw

Pillow and throw

Cezve, a Turkish coffee pot

Cezve, a Turkish coffee pot

Scarf

Scarf

Around the corner from our Istanbul apartment we found a small shop that sold hand woven Turkish towels, and simple, beautiful throws that would be perfect for keeping warm in the winter.  We picked up a a few towels and a throw for us, and a few for birthday and wedding gifts for family.

Hand towels

Hand towels

Hallway rug

Hallway rug

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Wanderings: Eating in Istanbul

Baklava

Baklava heaven

Nothing beats traveling to a city where you have close friends who can show you around town and take you to all the best restaurants that only the locals know about.  A guided food tour is the next best thing.

On the recommendation of a colleague who had recently traveled to Turkey, we signed up for a culinary walk with Istanbul Eats.  Our guide, the amazing Angelis, led us on a five and half hour eating tour through markets and small restaurants in the Karaköy neighborhood on the European side of the city, and Kadıköy, on the Asian side.

Dried peppers and eggplant

Dried peppers and eggplant

The most amazing kebabs

The most amazing kebabs

Simit

Simit

Personally, I think it can be very intimidating to walk into a restaurant in a new place when you aren’t familiar with the cuisine and don’t speak the language well.  A culinary tour is a great ice breaker for diving into the food scene.  In addition to introducing us to dozens of kind of food, drink and desserts, Angelis from Istanbul Eats showed us how to order in different kinds of situations, how to garnish our food, what to look for in street food, and talked to us about the way various cultures intersecting over time led to the food we were eating now.

Spices

Spices

Yogurt soup

Yogurt soup

Grilling tantuni, beef served in a flatbread wrap with veggies

Grilling tantuni, beef served in a flatbread wrap with veggies

Wet burger!

Wet burger!

Apart from the amazing food we had that day, Istanbul Eats gave us a printed guide to all their favorite places to eat in the city, organized by neighborhood.  Afterwards we consulted that book constantly and often organized our city exploration around a place we wanted to eat from the book.  They were some of the best meals of my life and many of them were back street or upstairs places so far from the beaten tourist path, I’d never have found them otherwise.

Another great result of the tour was that we were able to make friends with a few of the other travelers who we spent the day eating and walking with.  We met up with one couple a few times for dinner, drinks and sightseeing and it was wonderful to have new friends with whom to experience city life.

Making pide and lahmacun

Making pide and lahmacun

Stuffed mussels

Stuffed mussels

Tulum seller.  Tulum is cheese ripened in a goat skin. I believe the sign says, "Those who know, know."

Tulum seller. Tulum is cheese ripened in a goat skin. I believe the sign says, “Those who know, know.”

Raki, an anise flavored drink

Raki, an anise flavored drink

Amazing dinner at Antiochia

Amazing dinner at Antiochia

Pickle and olive shop

Pickle and olive shop

Turkish delight

Turkish delight

Fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice

Fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juice

Pomegranate reduction

Pomegranate reduction

Turkish breakfast

Turkish breakfast

Lahmacun and pide

Lahmacun and pide

Shrimp, squid and clams

Shrimp, squid and clams

Fish market

Fish market

Cheeses

Cheeses

Yogurt with sugar on the ferry

Yogurt with sugar on the ferry

Olives

Olives

Olives

Olives

Turkish meatballs and marrow bread

Turkish meatballs and marrow bread

Honey combs

Honey combs

Bakery

Bakery

Pickled vegetables

Pickled vegetables

Grape leaves

Grape leaves

Sütlaç, rice pudding topped with bananas, figs and Turkish delight.

Sütlaç, rice pudding with bananas, figs and Turkish delight.

Pide

Pide

Fresh aryan, a salty yogurt drink

Fresh aryan, a salty yogurt drink

Halka tatlisi, street food that tastes like churros if they were made of fried honey

Halka tatlisi, (as if churros were made out of fried honey)

Jams to eat with breakfast and clotted cream

Jams to eat with breakfast and clotted cream

Roasted chestnuts

Roasted chestnuts

Pastries

Pastries

Wanderings: Visiting the Blue Mosque

Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque) in the distance

Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque) in the distance

This was my favorite afternoon in Istanbul.  Quiet and cold, and slow.  Sultan Ahmed, also called the Blue Mosque, is a functioning mosque.  As with a cathedral, faith comes first, and travelers must wait until services and prayers are finished.   I would wait all day in that lovely courtyard, listening to the echoing sounds of the muezzin from the Blue Mosque and the Firuz Aga Mosque take turns calling the faithful to prayer.

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Minarets

Minarets

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Shoe rack in the Blue Mosque

Shoe rack in the Blue Mosque

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Here are two videos of the calls to prayer that echo back and forth from the Blue Mosque and Firuz Aga Mosque.  I was caught a little off guard the first time I heard it, and felt very swept up and emotional.  The first (bad) video is mine, the second (much better) video was found on Youtube.

Wanderings: Istanbul city life

New Mosque and a chestnut vendor

New Mosque and a chestnut vendor

One of the main reasons I travel is to experience life in a different place.  Some people like to focus on history and spend all their time in museums, but I am much more fascinated by modern life.  I want to find the places where the real citizens go, eat what they eat, drink what they drink, shop where they shop.   Before a trip, I try to read up on all the customs and habits of the place I am visiting: which way does traffic go on a sidewalk; do they look each other in the eyes; how to they greet each other; thank each other; what is the proper way to order food.  Then, when I get there, I try to blend in.  Some places its easier than others.

Some people think trying to blend in is silly, but I think it leads to a lot of nice surprises.  Maybe I get into the modern art museum for free because I look like a citizen.  Maybe the handsome men at the next table buy us dessert because we admired theirs.  Maybe the shopkeeper sends me to his favorite restaurant, or the fruit seller gives us a few pears as a gift.

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New Mosque

New Mosque

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Now that the Mister and I travel together, we rent apartments in neighborhoods, instead of hotels in the city center.  In Istanbul we stayed in the Karaköy neighborhood, which is across the Golden Horn from the old city.  We had nice views of Galata and the old city, but when we went downstairs the street was full of appliance and light fixture stores.  We could walk to İstiklal in ten minutes to party with the locals, or stay in our apartment to drink wine and play games as the gorgeous Galata Tower loomed over us.

Beyoglu apartment near Galata tower

The apartment we rented.  Look at those brick ceilings!

Galata Tower from our bedroom window

Galata Tower from our bedroom window

Sunset from our balcony

Sunset from our balcony

I love people watching.  So does the Mister.  We spent so much time in Istanbul sitting in cafes, sitting in parks, watching people, wandering around, watching, listening, tasting.  We explored back streets and fish markets, rode the ferries and the trams, peeked into workshops and stores.  We got lost so many times, but stumbled on cafes and antique shops and schools and cemeteries, and it was really all so wonderful.

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Anadolu Kavagi

Anadolu Kavagi

Simit vendor

Simit vendor

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Cemetery

Cemetery

Fortune telling bunny

Fortune telling bunny

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Looking out over the Bosphorus

Looking out over the Bosphorus

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Wanderings: Sightseeing in Istanbul

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Istanbul.  I’d never been to a city with so much history.  Rome is the only place that comes close, and even that is not the same.  The area was first settled nearly 2,500 years ago, and over that time it was a major crossroads of trade and culture, as well as the capitol of four major empires.

History is everywhere in the city, re-appropriated and re-purposed, layered on top of its self and crammed together.  Stand anywhere in the city and you’ll find something beautiful from 500 years ago, then walk a few steps and find some place important 1,000 years ago, then turn a corner and find something 1,500 years old that was turned into something useful fifty years ago.

The modern day culture and the food were primarily what drew me to Istanbul, but we took a little time each day to visit one or two of the monumental historical sights the city had to offer.   Limiting the time we spend in museums, for us, means that when we do go to one, we don’t feel rushed and exhausted.  I like feeling like I can linger.  Explore every corner and look at the light from every window.  Imagine that I lived here and got to look at this tile or that stone, every day.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

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Domes and Minarets

Domes and minarets from the Hagia Sofia looking over the the Blue Mosque

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Yoros Castle

Yoros Castle

Installation at Istanbul Modern

Installation at Istanbul Modern

Topkapi courtyards

Topkapi courtyards

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Topkapi Palace

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Arcade leading to the entrance of the harems at Topkapi

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Spice Market

Spice Market

Istanbul.53

Spice market

A slight shift: To and Fromage

Saturday night's cheese platter

Saturday night’s cheese platter

Over the cheese course at dinner on Saturday, the mister joked that it was a shame I hadn’t called my blog “to and fro….mage.”  I think my face immediately fell, because, honestly, it was the perfect name.  Why couldn’t he have been so clever twelve days ago?  Most likely we were eating cheese when I mentioned that I was going to try a blog for sharing photos.

Oh well.  In honor of the change, here are a few photos of delightful cheese experiences we have had in recent times.

Digging in to a communal cheese platter in Paris

Digging in to a communal cheese platter in Paris

Cheddar feast on St. Patrick's Day

Cheddar feast on St. Patrick’s Day

Selection from our first Beaujolais Nouveau party

Selection from our first Beaujolais Nouveau party (we’ve now hosted three)

Sampling cheese ripened in a goat stomach on the Asia side of Istanbul

Sampling Tulum cheese,  which is ripened in a goat skin, on the Asia side of Istanbul

Parmesan and 80 year old balsamic vinegar from a friend's family in Italy

Parmesan and 80 year old balsamic vinegar from a friend’s family in Italy

Rainy day picnic in Paris

Rainy day picnic in Paris

Cheese plate in Galata Square, Istanbul

Cheese plate in Galata Square, Istanbul

Cheese, prosciutto, and pesto picnic on the Tiber River in Rome

Cheese, prosciutto, and pesto picnic on the Tiber River in Rome

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