Author Archives: postcardsfromistanbul

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Dearest Readers,

2013 has proven to be a year of exciting transitions and new beginnings. Istanbul was my home, my stomping grounds and adventure-base for almost 4 years. The city’s dynamic energy was thrilling and overwhelming, inspiring and exhausting. It is certainly one of my favorite places in the world and will always be somewhere I call ‘home’.

I miss the accordion man that walked through our street every Sunday morning. I miss the lemon cart and the old grandmothers who  yelled, chatted, smiled and strolled as they passed through the web of city streets. I miss the cats at every turn. I miss passing four grocery stores on my way home. I miss knowing I can jump on the bus or metro in a matter of minutes and get almost anywhere in the city. I miss the music pouring out of the Taksim bars. I miss when the streets are so full you can hardly walk. I miss the sparkling Bosphorus, where boats of all sizes travel in all directions. I miss constantly being exposed to new words, flavors, music and experiences. And, of course I miss my Istanbul friends and family.

Where am I now?! I am currently on Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle, back on American soil. It is a place where you can hear the birds chirping, walk along the beach without seeing another soul and occasionally, if you are really lucky, you will see beautiful Mount Rainier. It is a place where everyone wants to know your story (and most people already do). Everyone makes eye contact with one another and it is expected for you to say hello (with a smile) to every stranger you pass. Small town life is charming in its quirks and serenity.

There has been significant culture shock. It  took me 3 weeks to muster the courage to enter a grocery store. It boggles my mind that there can be entire aisles of salad dressing and cereal. I still stand on the right side of an escalator. I am learning to tip 20 percent after every meal. I cannot hear (or see) my neighbors. The streets of Seattle seem so empty, even at the height of commuter hours.

In some ways life seems to have slowed down. We sleep in every day. The stress of work is absent from my life. I am surrounded by the comfort, love and support of family. However, I am constantly reminded that time never stops. Everyone I know has big, busy and full lives that have changed so much since my original departure. It is fun to get to know my closest friends in new ways and see how everyone has grown-up and started their own unique path towards the life they want to live.

What am I doing?! Exploring my options, networking, dreaming big and daydreaming about my next adventures (and blog). I am toying with the idea of careers in international education, public relations, public affairs, higher education and even writing. I am currently working on a book to ensure my adventures and experiences outlive the blur of my memories. I am considering my options for a blog about the social, economic, cultural realities of the Millennial generation I find myself to be a member of. I am trying to tame my wanderlust to imagine myself staying in one place long enough to establish real roots. I miss Istanbul and the exciting world I left behind, but I am also thrilled to imagine all the possibilities that await me.

Stay tuned for future posts and updates!

From Seattle with love…

Adrian

From Istanbul to Seattle

The Holiday Season in Istanbul

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streets of nisantasiLess than 10 minutes from my apartment lies a magical place. The streets are filled with toy soldiers, sparkling lights and even  a Christmas Tree (or more accurately ‘A New Years Tree ‘ for the Turks).  Stars and lights hang from restaurant windows, store entrances are decorated with ornaments and to my surprise , even familiar Christmas music plays in the stores. For this homesick American, it is to my sheer delight to see familiar symbols, decor and music to celebrate the holiday season in the Istanbul neighborhood of Nisantasi.  Read the rest of this entry

Monet Comes to Istanbul

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Monet_Waterliliesphoto credit

Nestled along the Bosphorus is a mansion on a hill overlooking  the Asian shore. This was once a embassy and then home to one of the richest families in Turkey. Now, it houses a museum which brings some of the most famous artists to Istanbul. People still talk about the Dali exhibit that occurred 4 years ago, and now Monet sits at the heart of the exhibition space of the museum. The pieces are on loan fro the Marmottan Monet Museum, which holds the larges collection of Claude Monet’s work.  Read the rest of this entry

My Turkey Travel Wishlist

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Bozcaada: This Aegean island is famous for its wineries, beaches and its medieval fortress. It is colorful, calm and beautiful.

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Sumela Monestary: South of Trabzon, this monastery hangs off the rock walls, overlooking a forest. It was founded in the Byzantine times and abandoned in the 1920s at the founding of the Turkish republic

The Sumela Monastery - Macka, TrabzonPhoto Credit

Safranbolu: An UNESCO World Heritage site,  this old Ottoman village is located in the middle of a valley in the center of Turkey. The beautiful Ottoman buildings and the old city center have been perfectly restored, making this town  a perfect retreat.

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Mount Nemrut: The natural treasure of eastern Turkey, this mountain offers more than scenic views and a beautiful natural landscape. At the top of the mountain lies pre-Roman statues and tombs of a local King and the gods he worshiped  To add to the mystique, it was not discovered until 1881, when the Ottoman Empire commissioned a German engineer to explore alternative trade routes.

Mount-Nemrut

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Where to Eat in Istanbul

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I am always searching for authentic Turkish restaurants that will impress visiting guests, appeal to diverse culinary tastes and offer a unique dining experience.  I must admit: when we go out to dinner, we rarely go out to Turkish meals. We seek out Japanese, Thai, Italian and other unique flavors, simply because we are lucky enough to taste a variety of different Turkish foods on a regular basis. Thus, the conundrum  Where do you take guests who are visiting Istanbul and want to eat Turkish, and only Turkish food. Here are my recommendations:

Zubeyir Ocakbasi

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Also located in Taksim, this restaurant is down Bekar Sokak at the top of Istiklal, 5 minutes from Taksim Square. It is famous among Istanbullians, foodies and sadly, it is probably in every major guide book by now. The Ocakbasi refers to the traditional grills that kebaps are prepared upon.  Immediately upon walking inside, you will see (and smell) their large grill, and notice the photos on the wall which showcase all of their famous patrons. This place has a very special place in my heart because it is where we brought our two families together before our wedding. The service is spectacular. The environment is lively. Everything on the menu is fresh. And, every bite melts in your mouth. Be prepared to splurge a little bit to truly experience this place. It is best to come here with a large crowd. Select at least 6 of the appetizers from the appetizer plate. Order a big bottle of Raki. Drink and be merry! Be sure to make reservations or go early…

Ciya Sofrasi

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Located in Kadikoy, this restaurant has become the gem of the Turkish culinary scene. It was founded by a chef who wanted to reintroduce Turkish cuisine to the world, and show the diversity of ingredients and flavors that exist within Turkey’s borders. There are numerous things that make this restaurant unique. I will share 4 of them with you. First, there is a buffet of various Turkish appetizers. You will be given a plate and you can (and should) fill your plate with each and every dish. The plate is weighed to determine the price. Secondly, the menu is comprehensive and informative. Next to each item, you will find the city it originated from. It is wonderful to see the diversity and learn about regional specialties we rarely get to experience in Istanbul. Thirdly, the walnut dessert (Ceviz Tatlisi) is the most incredible and indulgent thing I have ever eaten. Be prepared for your mouth to water.  Finally, Ciya is located in Kadikoy, a lively neighborhood on the Asian side. Come early to walk along the waterfront, explore its lively food market and to sip coffee at any one of its cafes. You will observe a young, hip and liberal crowd that call Kadikoy home. After dinner, stop for a beer and sit outside for some excellent people-watching.

Asmali Cavit

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Asmali Cavit has the best Turkish mezes (appetizers) in the city. Each and every dish is fresh and flavorful. The waiters are friendly and helpful. The atmosphere is lively and warm. It is the perfect place to go if you are looking for a traditional Turkish restaurant with GREAT food. You will start by being summoned to the display case, where you will select the cold appetizers that appeal to you. Once you select them, they will be brought to your table in small plates. I predict you will quickly devour them and want more. Next, move on to the hot appetizers. I recommend the borek and some fried hamsi (small fish). If you still have room, tackle the menu. Oh, and do not attempt to drink anything but Raki for this meal.

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Anit Kabir: The Mausoleum of Ataturk

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Anit Kabir

When reviewing the alphabet in my Kindergarten phonics lesson last year, I once had a student volunteer the word ‘God’ as we attempted to brainstorm words that started with ‘g’. I was shocked that this English word was familiar to 5-year-old Turkish students. So, I asked my students to define it. One of my favorite students-charming, precocious and wickedly smart-blasted his arm into the air. I could not resist. I had to call on him. His definition?! ‘Ataturk’.

While this may offend or surprise some, it stuck with me. To this 5-year old, Ataturk was the most important person, figure and symbol he has ever encountered. As the founder of the modern Turkish state, his vision transformed the people, the land and the nation of Turkey. He introduced reforms that promoted the arts and education. He empowered women as equals in society and gave them the right to vote. He oversaw the introduction of the Latin alphabet and established the modern Turkish language. There are very few other examples in history, where one man’s vision and actions shaped an entire nation (or to my 5-year old student…his world)

walkway to Anit Kabir

Located on a hill overlooking the city of Ankara, this impressive monument celebrates the life, accomplishments and vision of Ataturk. Admittedly, I am a fan of monuments and museums, especially those that are particularly nostalgic and ambitious in their efforts to establish the legacy of whatever they attempt to memorialize. I was not disappointed.

Anit Kabir presents Ataturk’s vision and fight for a modern Turkish state. At the entrance, three men and three women stand equally to greet visitors. Intellectuals , democratic ideals and youth are presented as the face and future of the nation. This monument houses the body of Ataturk, but also the vision. It serves as  a regular meeting place to celebrate the country’s progress and potential. It features stone from every corner of the country and showcases the sculpture and design of Turkish artists. Read the rest of this entry

How to spot an American Tourist in Istanbul

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If more than one of these things is observed, it is more than 75 percent likely that you have an American on your hands:

1.) They talk…loudly  and with body motions on public transportation

2.) They smile at everyone they pass

3.) They are wearing sneakers (or trainers for my British readers), backpacks, outdoor gear, baseball caps, polar fleece jackets or sweatshirts

4.) They are not afraid of color. In a city where black equals chic, bold colors and prints stand out…in the loveliest of ways.

5.) They travel in groups and huddle together before a restaurant choice is made.

Ankara: First Impressions

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We went to Ankara for the weekend to see family and explore the city. Located in the middle of Turkey, Ankara is the geographical and political heart of the country. It is also the second largest city in Turkey. This astounds me considering it was a small village just 100 years ago. When Turkey was founded in the 1920s, Ankara was established as the political capital of the country. However, it is somewhat cursed by history. The country developed in the 50s, 60s and 70s…a very unkind period of time in the history of architecture. As a result, large cement blocks line the tree-covered European boulevards.

Istanbullians joke the best view of Ankara can be found on the train ride home, a rather pretentious opinion that admittedly was difficult to shake off. Ankara lacks the culture, history and Bosphorus view that makes Istanbul so enchanting. It is more conservative and in many ways does not feel as modern, dynamic and culturally rich as other capital cities. However, it has traces of a strong vision for the modern Turkish state and its capital city. There is an efficient metro system. There are parks and trees everywhere you look. The streets are clean. People are friendly. There are wonderful museums (The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations and Ataturk’s Mausoleum). Embassies have a prominent role in the city’s design and functionality. The president’s residence sits atop a hill overlooking the city. The parliament building stretches across a city block in the heart of the city.

The Music of Istiklal

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On the weekends, something special happens: music fills Istanbul’s busiest street. Most Friday and Saturday evenings, there is a wonderful addition to the old street car that runs through the heart of Taksim, along the pedestrian street of Istiklal. Behind it, you will find a moving stage car with a group of musicians performing inside of it. Each night there is a different band playing a different type of music. I have heard everything from salsa to blues to rock and roll. As the old street car moves down Istanbul’s busiest street, the musicians play. Catching a short performance is always the highlight to my evening.

Read more about the Tramway here.

Van Kahvalti Evi: The Best Breakfast Place in Cihangir

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As you may know, Cihangir is home to many cozy, charming and lively cafes that offer wonderful breakfasts. One of my favorite weekend activities is a breakfast date in Cihangir. As a result, over the past year I have written rave reviews about several different breakfast places in Cihangir. But, if you only have one morning in Cihangir, you must go to Van Kahvalti Evi.

This place is the star of the Cihangir breakfast scene. There are lines of young hipsters and expats along the sidewalk, awaiting a coveted seat in this bustling cafe. The staff runs around delivering one glass of tea after another  and work harder than any other wait staff I have ever seen. Several minutes after you place your order, numerous small plates cover the table. Unfamiliar delicacies await you. They include a ground walnut paste with honey, a hearty mixture of wheat and egg and the best tahini you wil ever sample. Additionally, a wide variety of incredibly fresh cheeses, the juiciest tomatoes, fresh kaymak (clotted cream) and homemade honey. Read the rest of this entry