Monthly Archives: March 2012


Growing up on small island in the Pacific Northwest, I was spoiled by the natural beauty of the region. However, when I moved to the bustling concrete jungle of Istanbul, I realized that my natural surroundings are more than something I appreciate, but something I need. It took me too long to find a natural refuge from the chaos of city life, but ever since I discovered Yildiz Park, I have flocked to this beautiful green hillside whenever I was consumed by the desire to be surrounded by nature. For a lovely Sunday afternoon, we took a bus to Besiktas and walked past students, couples and tourists before entering the grand gates of Yildiz Park. Formally, the palace gardens and hunting grounds for the sultans who inhabited the ornate Dolmabahce Palace, it is now a public park that is always full of life. On Sundays, it is overflowing with families and friends who flock to this prized piece of urban greenery for a picnic. We love walking along the paths and up the steep hill. Sitting at the top of this hill sits a wonderful cafe where you can order tea, read your newspaper and enjoy the scenery. It is the perfect way to spend an afternoon outdoors in Istanbul.

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An Afternoon at Yildiz Park

Anne’s Cafe: A Very Special Breakfast in Cihangir


I first discovered Anne’s Cafe in the Spring of 2010 thanks to a review in TimeOut Istanbul. I have been obsessed with TimeOut Istanbul’s restaurant reviews, and Anne’s Cafe ever since. Gul Anne is a wonderful host who opened her kitchen to locals, tourists and old friends. Nestled in the back streets of Cihangir, you immediately feel at home when you enter Anne’s Cafe. As you enjoy your meal, friends and family drop by to visit and share their news. Gul Anne sits at the corner table scouring the internet, updating her blog and playing music from her personal computer.

Gul originally ran a cafe in Antalya, a holiday destination located in Southern Turkey, but relocated to Istanbul when she became a grandmother. It is an intimate, colorful and lively space. There are trinkets and quotes on the walls. The kitchen is full of activity, and Gul Anne welcomes you like an old friend.

While Cihangir is infamous for its numerous intimate cafes and special breakfasts, Anne’s Cafe is usually my sole destination.  I love her breakfasts, and I do not need to look at a menu to make my order. I always start with her special yogurt dish. It consists of plain Turkish yogurt, covered in layers of honey, kiwi, corn flakes and dried fruit. It is decadent and delicious. Then, I order the “Ozel Kahvalti” or  ‘special breakfast’, which is a compilation of small plates and platters of every design and shape. These dishes are full of homemade jams and marmalade, olives, cheeses and the special treats of the day.  Cats wander in and out as you sit comfortably in the cafe. Gul works the room chatting with everyone as they enter. Introductions are made, numerous languages are spoken and lively conversations commence. Anne’s Cafe is a unique Cihangir treasure that I love to share with old friends and visiting guests. Everyone is humbled by the hospitality, delighted by the decor and fully satisfied by the special breakfast…

Address: Kılıçali Paşa Mh.  Samanyolu Sokak 9, 34433 Cihangir Istanbul  

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Treasure Shopping in Galata


Spring has come to Istanbul, and the city is bustling with activity. Everyone is outside and the streets are full of life. I woke-up on Saturday full of energy and excited to explore. I met my friend for coffee and we wandered in and out of the small shops that line the cobblestone street that leads to Galata Tower. Our mission for the day? To collect some treasures and trinkets that are uniquely Turkish. We are currently daydreaming of a way to share the beautiful and whimsical jewelry that seems to be everywhere we look in Istanbul, and find a way to informally or formally bring it to the United States. Here is a sample of what we admired and collected from an afternoon full of chatting, exploring and shopping…

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An Introduction to Turkish Wedding Invitations…


While we are pretty much set on the wedding front, we have a few more tasks to complete. This week’s project? The selection of invitations. Now, this should be a very simple task. Neither of us take it too seriously, nor do we have any radical opinions or needs. We have agreed the invitation will be in Turkish, and must be simple and elegant. However, this is not an easy task. After an hour-long search, we quickly discovered that Turkish invitations could not be more tacky. They are limited to the colors of white, off-white and beige, occasionally sprinkled with tacky cartoons of brides and grooms, as well as ugly hearts and flowers. They are most similar to the graduation announcements in the states that have not been updated in a few decades. We eventually found one that satisfies our need for simple elegance, and some color.

What  I learned:

There are numerous invitation shops above Sirkeci Train Station. If you head to Eminonu/Sultanahmet, walk towards the train station. Once you are there, instead of turning left with the tramway, walk straight up the hill and you will discover several small invitation shops with binders full of most invitation brands.

In my personal opinion, Koza Invitations offer the most classic and contemporary styles. We chose a beautiful design with off-white card, gold text and Chinese flowers hanging from the top and bottom. We love them!

In Turkey, you do not give invitations to guests until one month before the wedding. Most invitations take no more than 2 weeks to print. If you order invitation 2 months before the wedding, you will be fine!

Invitations are expected to be hand delivered by the bride and groom, or their family members.

It is customary (and almost obligatory) to invite your boss to your wedding.

Our invitation selection cannot be appreciated until you get a taste of the plethora of horrible and tacky options that we were forced to skim through (do not worry, none of these were considerations). Look below at your own peril!

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For my birthday, I was surprised me with a very special birthday treat: a weekend trip to Buyukada, the largest of the Princes Islands. The islands are accessible by ferry from central Istanbul and are the perfect retreat from the everyday chaos of city life. The large ferries have the capacity to take around 1500 people each trip, and in the summertime, these ferries are beyond capacity. Stairs become seats, and any floor space is open for the taking. The ferry ride alone is a unique and joyous experience. A man walks around the ferry with a tray of tea and sugar, selling it at the bargain price of 50 kurus.  A salesman walks through the cabin with special lemon squeezers, stopping in each section for a special presentation that always captivates the entire room. We stopped at one of the fabulous meatball sandwich stands near the Kabatas waterfront to buy our special lunch in preparation for the 80 minute journey. The sandwiches cost 5 lira, and worth every penny for the fresh tomatoes and richly seasoned meatballs cooked when you order.

Once we reached the island, we walked through the small town. Unlike its bustling summer persona, we found the seaside village quiet and calm. While people normally fill the streets, the small groups that did venture to the islands were now hidden inside the warm cafes and restaurants. Cats and dogs outnumbered the people on the streets. We walked towards our hotel and checked-in. We were impressed by the terrace view of the city, and our spotless room. Next, we walked to the line of horse-drawn carriages (bicycles and carriages rule the streets here. There are no cars allowed), and quickly arranged to go to Lunapark, the closest destination to the small monastery located at one of the highest points of the island. We passed the old and glamorous summer homes of Istanbul’s elite, joking about which one we would buy and make our own. When we reached the bottom of the monastery’s steep hill we thanked our carriage driver and began to walk. We stopped occasionally to take in the view, and 20 minutes later we reached the top.

 On a normal summer day, the monastery would be open to visitors and tourists would be wandering up and down the steep hill.  However, on this day, the area was empty and ours to explore. We wandered around the beautiful site, and eventually ended up in the small cafe located at the top. Looking over the entire island, and the city’s distant shore, this cafe has one of the most extraordinary locations in Turkey. There was a lively group of Greek people joyously engaged in a night of dancing and drinking inside. We speculated on their lives and background, and assumed they were island fisherman who called Buyukada home. We watched as they danced around with the Raki glasses increasingly more recklessly, and laughed and talked as if we were worlds away from our everyday lives. We sat in this small cafe and watched the sunset as two cats jumped in and out of our laps, and the small stove  in the center of the room warmed up the entire space.

We eventually left the cafe and walked down the hill, hoping that there would still be carriages down below. We were lucky: there were two. We travelled back to town humbled by the peace and calm of the cold March evening. We returned to our hotel and prepared to go to dinner. We sat and talked, surrounded by other couples in the terrace restaurant. We retired for the evening and spent the night indulging in American television shows that we never watch at home. We woke-up to a large breakfast, Caglayan tried his luck fishing and in the early afternoon we caught the ferry back to Istanbul…

It was a wonderful getaway and the perfect birthday present. Buyukada is one of my favorite places in Turkey. It is the perfect refuge, and a must-see for any summer visitor to Istanbul.

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A Trip to Buyukada


Every two or three weeks, we make our way across the city to Caglayan’s mom’s apartment for a special breakfast. The table is full of treats of every flavor and origin. There are numerous options covering the table.  Every type of breakfast pastry, homemade jams, special cheeses, fruit and nuts, a constant flow of tea and lively conversation. We have been gathering more frequently with his parents and grandmother to plan the wedding and discuss the details of the event. Our last mission: to introduce a western-style ceremony. It did not go well. The YouTube video selection is somewhat limited. I found Kate and Will’s wedding video, but obviously our wedding will be nothing like the royal wedding of the century. I am still searching. However, the opportunity to bond and laugh on a Sunday morning is always a treat.

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Family Breakfast

Birthday Dinner


We spent last night with friends at Quick China. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul, and offers the best Asian food in the city. It is dark, intimate and oh-so-chic. It is walking distance from our apartment, and offers some of the best sushi I have ever tasted. This is an incredible statement to make because excellent international cuisine is almost impossible to find in Istanbul. Of course, there are numerous restaurants in the city that offer an array of Japanese, Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine, but rarely do you leave successfully satisfying your craving. They are often incredibly overpriced, and they are often foreign dishes made with Turkish ingredients. I admit, I have been very spoiled in my life. On the small island where I grew up, there were a plethora of restaurants that met every craving and represented the best in international cuisine. As I search for these flavors abroad, I have come to appreciate the diversity of flavors and cuisines that exist in the United States.

For my birthday, we reserved a table for 16 and enjoyed the company of friends as we ate sushi, fried rice, dumplings and more. Both my current and my beloved past teaching partner were in attendance, as well as many co-workers and friends. I felt very loved and very happy. We chatted into the evening, and the waiter spoiled us with late-night treats, ranging from jasmine tea to caramelized walnuts and fortune cookies. It was nice to catch-up with new and old friends, and to be surrounded by so many people who I love.

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Why I hate being sick in Istanbul…


One of the unfortunate results of teaching 5-year olds is the constant sickness that comes with the elementary school environment. During my first winter in Turkey I was sick every week with a different ailment. I was even lucky enough to bond with my future mother-in-law when we both caught the swine flu at the same time. While my immune system continues to grow stronger and more able to fight every variation of the flu and the common cold, I have also adopted a strict regiment of vitamins to ensure I am not constantly ill. However, it is not entirely avoidable. This week, I was reminded of this the hard way. Out of necessity, I spent my birthday and the day that followed it sick in bed. While everyone hates being sick, there are some more reasons to despise this miserable condition in Istanbul.

1.) There is not an emphasis on preventative medicine. Thus, you cannot stay home to ‘nip it in the bud’, you must be deathly ill to rationalize staying home from work. Unfortunately, this means sick colleagues, as well as sick children are potential carries of disease.

2.) If you do elect to stay home, you must call your boss at 7 AM to inform them of your grave condition. This is a call everyone fears, especially because it is a call everyone is discouraged to make.

3.) If you are sick, you must go to the doctor and get a doctor’s note to prove that you were ill. Thus, you must get out of bed (when bed rest is often the best cure), force yourself to go out into the chaos of the city and descend into the cest pool of public transportation as you attempt to secure the proper paperwork. It is often easier to simply go to work…

4.) There are not general health practitioners or local clinics in Istanbul. There are public hospitals which are very inexpensive, but require fluent Turkish (or a lot of humility) and a full-day to maneuver. Instead, I go to the private hospital Aci Badem which resembles a 5-star hotel. To use these facilities, you must call the hospital operator and arrange an appointment with a specific doctor, within a specific department. With a simple cold and cough, you must arrange an appointment with someone who specializes in Internal Medicine. The appointment itself usually takes less than 15 minutes, but costs more than 100 lira because you are paying an expert to diagnose you with the cold or flu you already know you have.

5.) The obvious: At your most vulnerable state, you miss the comforts of home the most. I crave a Winter Elixer from Blackbird Bakery, Chicken Noodle Soup and the eclectic mix of Celestial Seasoning teas. The child in me misses the sick beds my mom would prepare in front of the television, and the familiar sounds and smells of home.

Saturday Night at Molly’s Cafe


It was a cold and grey Saturday, with a few random bursts of snow. We spent most of the day recuperating from the excitement of the previous night, but craved a way to conclude a wonderful day and a crazy week. We headed to Molly’s Cafe, near Galata Tower and found exactly what we were looking for.

When you enter Molly’s Cafe you immediately feel at home. The first thing you see is an open kitchen full of activity. Chatter fills the room in a variety of different languages. Paintings of local artists and familiar scenery cover the walls, and various intimate seating arrangements invite you to make yourself comfortable.

We quickly settled into a couch in the back of the cafe. One of the cats quickly found our laps and settled next to us. We were surrounded by an ecclectic collection of English and Turkish books about every topic and place (I even found an old book about the Pacific Northwest). We skimmed through the collection of books about Istanbul, and chatted about the week. We ordered wine and chocolate cake, and quickly achieved a state of perfect contentment.  Everything on the menu is homemade, and succeeds in every way to make you feel at home, while also providing you with an opportunity to eat what you miss the most from home. We quickly and joyously devoured the cake, as the evenings performers began to play.

The band was named Acqui Cavuri, and consisted of both Italian and Turkish musicians. They played a collection of vibrant Sicilian and Mediterranean folk music. The music filled the space and the entire room came alive with the oud, the guitar, the violin and different types of percussion.

Molly has a wonderful blog that I would suggest to everyone. It is also an excellent way to learn about what’s happening in the cafe, and learn about her observations and experiences as an ex-pat in Istanbul.

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A Wax Museum in Istanbul


Nestled quietly in the basement of the doomed shopping mall Sapphire, I was skeptical of the experience that was about to unfold. I have never been to a wax museum before, nor have I had the desire. However, a mixture of boredom and curiosity resulted in my agreement when the invitation was extended. Sapphire’s bright flourescent lights were a sharp contrast to the darkness we entered. Classical music played as we wandered past famous artists, scientists, writers and sultans of the Ottoman Empire. It was interesting to put a face to names which have been introduced to me in my quest to understand the significance of the Ottomans. This part was perhaps the best and most interesting aspect of the trip for me.

In the next room there was a large and disproportionate presence of Soviet leaders. Adjacent to this bizarre emphasis, the presence of Adolph Hitler filled me with only disgust. What was the intent?! Is it necessary to memorialize and personify the good and the bad?! While wax figurines by no means glorify an individual, they give them an eerie presence beyond their time and place. While I could not help but question if Hitler was worthy to be in a ‘museum’, let alone a product that is assigned a value, I also found myself questioning if one’s accomplishments and success should elevate and remove them from this bizarre and superficial effort to create an attraction under the disguise of a museum.

After pondering this for a while, we wandered past the Beatles and Elvis, thus meeting my stereotyped assumptions of who and what I expected to find in a wax museum. In a special film space, there were two different versions of Ataturk. This was not surprising, but strangely familiar and anticlimactic. Statues and photographs of this great leader of the Turks can be found everywhere in Turkey. His timeless face is framed on walls in schools, shops and offices throughout the country. While his presence among this eclectic mix of notable personalities, great minds, and historic leaders did not surprise me, it seemed strange to see him memorialized in the basement of a shopping mall.  What value does this space hold? What role and responsibility do we have as a voyeur? And, what value do the figurines have as art? While my concerns and questions left me thinking, I found comfort in my classification of this space as a bizarre attraction, rather than a museum.

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