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

A Boat Ride Along the Golden Horn

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One of my close friends returned to the United States this week. He was my Turkish study partner, as well as our neighbor. Before he left, we had the opportunity to celebrate with him and his roommates. We spent last Saturday on the Golden Horn.

One of the best things about Istanbul is the numerous opportunities to celebrate along the Bosphorus. I have spent evenings in terrace bars and hotels with 180 degree views of the Bosphorus. I have enjoyed glorious nights hanging off the Bosphorus at seaside bars and restaurants. And, this week we explored the Golden Horn in a small little boat with 12 interesting people who were all in Istanbul for different reasons. We had a Copy Editor for the Turkish Daily News, a Spanish translator who translates Ottoman maritime texts into English, a Turkish lawyer and an aspiring pastry chef. Read the rest of this entry

Happy Thanksgiving!

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This year was my fifth Thanksgiving away from home. While it breaks my heart to away from the established traditions, lively discussions, delicious food and my wonderful friends and family, I am delighted by the wonderful new and established traditions that shape my own celebration!

My friend and I befriended a Turkish man with a New York accent on the bus, while we were returning from the Sabanci Museum yesterday. He was a Business professor at the esteemed Bogazaci University and lived in the United States for many years, while teaching at Temple University. We started by talking about Seattle and the Bosphorus, but after leaving the bus, our interaction continued with one final conversation. He reemerged from the crowd to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. In fact, he was off to celebrate with his Turkish American friends!

He inspired us. His enthusiasm for American life and Thanksgiving was surprising, but also endearing. Originally, I was saving all of my energy for our established weekend extravaganza with friends (we always reschedule Thanksgiving festivities to ensure we get the whole weekend to celebrate and prepare), but we decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner of our own last night as well. Now, keep in mind we came to this decision at 6 PM last night…so we did not have much time.

How do you prepare for Thanksgiving dinner in 2 hours? Read the rest of this entry

My Istanbul To Do List:

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After 3 1/2 years there are still new experiences awaiting me in Istanbul.  Here are some of the  places I want to explore this Fall:

1.) Visit SALT Galata 

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2.) Visit the Istanbul Aquarium

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3.) Read The Museum of Innocence, then go to the Museum of Innocence

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4.) Spend the Evening at Sefahathane

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5.) Admire the Mosaics of the Chora Church

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My Date with the US Consular General (and his fabulous wife)

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As I walked through the gates of the Consular General’s residence, I knew I was in for a treat. The home is perched on the steep hillside in one of my favorite neighborhoods of Istanbul. The grounds are green, the staff is friendly and the Consular General and his wife proved to be the most gracious hosts.

We gathered for the monthly meeting of Professional American Women of Istanbul. We sipped coffee and tea out of porcelain cups and used napkins with the seal of the United States printed on them. We snacked on the comprehensive breakfast buffet. Eventually, we gathered in the main sitting room to listen to introductions from the Consular General, the head of US Security forces in Istanbul, 2 Marine officers and a liaison from the Citizen services office. Here are some of the highlights of the meeting and the lively discussion:

1.) The Istanbul Consulate is busy! There are more than 14,000 Turkish students travelling to the United States each year and more Turkish people are applying for Tourist visas than ever before. As many of you know, Turks are required to complete a long and comprehensive visa application process before they travel to the US and many other countries. Thus, the Consulate is very busy filing these applications and conducting interviews to complete the visa process.

2.)Istanbul is a very popular destination among high ranking officials. During our visit, Secretary Janet Napolitano was in town. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and President Obama have also been to Istanbul in recent years. The Istanbul Consulate receives more high-ranked officials than most US consulates around the globe. The city’s geopolitical significance rivals its touristic appeal…

3.) American companies are looking to Istanbul as a center for business in the region. 3M is planning to establish a super-hub in the upcoming year. It is predicted that with the weakness in the Euro zone and the instability in the Middle East, Istanbul will continue to be a desirable location for investors and American business interests. Read the rest of this entry