Monthly Archives: March 2012

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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

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Anne’s Cafe: A Very Special Breakfast in Cihangir

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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

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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…

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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

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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

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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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