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
One day every year, the city stops. Roads are closed and pedestrians own the streets. This event is the Istanbul Marathon and it occurs the first weekend of November. With perfect weather we joined the festivities for the first time this year. Now, I will stop pretending and let you in on a secret: you do not have to run to be part of this special day. We signed up for the Fun Run and the unique opportunity to walk across the Istanbul bridge, the symbolic union of Asia and Europe.
We danced as we awaited the beginning of he race. We watched as red balloons were released into the sky. We gathered Turkish flags as we crossed the starting line. We walked triumphantly past the Mayor of Istanbul as we began the 8 km walk. Within 15 minutes, we found ourselves walking across the bridge. People stopped and posed for photos and took in the view. The whole city was ours to embrace. It was the perfect day and a wonderful way to introduce Istanbul to my dear friend Jenny.
You can sign-up for the Fun Run in the two weeks prior to the marathon. Booths can be found in the busiest areas around the city. Locations include the Mecidiekoy Metrobus entrance and near the Taksim Square Metro entrance, as well as most shopping malls on the weekend. It is free and registration allows you to receive a t-shirt and a medal for completion of the race;)
Turkish baths, or hamams are central to traditional Turkish life. It is where the women of the community come together to gossip and discuss their relationships, home life and news. Historically, the hamam was a strategic site for a discerning mother to find the perfect wife for her son, as well as an important part of pre-wedding festivities to prepare the bride for her wedding night. Hamams are slowly loosing their significance in every day life, and the most glorious and historical hamams are becoming expensive tourist traps. Thus, an authentic neighborhood hamam is hard to find and provides a truly unique experience.
I spent a lovely day with three of my friends from my old school, as well as one of my best friends visiting from Seattle. We gathered in Besiktas to start our day at one of the lovely and hip cafes hiding in the backstreets around Balik Pazari. Then, we took the ferry to the Asian neighborhood of Uskudar. Located right along the waterfront, this neighborhood is one of the city’s busiest and most conservative neighborhoods. It is also a wonderful place to experience a unique slice of Turkish life. We talked to 5 different taxi drivers before we found someone who knew where the hamam was located AND was willing to take us for this short 6 lira fare (It is somewhat off the beaten path and at the top of a hill so a taxi is recommended)
Cinili Hamam was commissioned by Kosem Sultan and built in 1640 . This Turkish bath is also known as ‘Eski Hamam’ or ‘Old Bath’ and is considered to be one of the most historical Turkish baths in the area. It is frequented by locals and expats alike. It is beautiful, as well as inexpensive and authentic. I would go so far to say that is probably one of the best hamam experiences in Istanbul.
We were quickly ushered into our own dressing room and then welcomed through the doors of the warm steamy bath itself. The hamam is arranged in a star shape.Each corner is composed of benches with sinks flowing with warm water. In the middle there is a large marble slab, where you are summoned for your scrub, massage and cleansing by women in their underwear for a full-body exfoliation, followed by a round of soap. As you await your turn, your job is to soften your skin by pouring shallow buckets of hot water all over yourself. With each bucket, comes a wave of relaxation and rejuvenation.
We came prepared: we brought flip flops, Turkish bath towels, our own bath scrubs, soap and shampoo. The entrance fee was 18 lira and the scrub cost 12 lira. For 3 relaxing hours, and indulgently soft skin, this was a steal!
This is one of my favorite times of year! Halloween, Election Day and Thanksgiving all in one perfect Fall package. Somehow, I was able to incorporate elements of each of these important days into my life in Istanbul. (Thanksgiving planning began last month as we brainstormed all of the special pumpkin products we craved before my friend returned to the US in October)
To be honest, voting abroad does not provide the same excitement and ease as voting at home on Election Day. However, I will be the first to admit that I am lucky in some ways. I have been free from horrible and antagonistic campaign advertisements, and I only seek out election news when I desire it.
To account for mailing time and ensure my vote was counted, my voting efforts began in October. I discovered a fantastic website for American military personnel and citizens living abroad called the Federal Voting Assistance Program. If you enter your zip code, it will confirm you are registered for the election and connect you directly with the election division of your respective count. To my sheer delight, Kitsap County allows voters to vote online and print their final ballot as a PDF. With the ballot in front of me, and a handy Progressive Voters Guide one tab away, I voted and saved my finished ballot. I sent my ballot to be printed. That night, my wonderful hubby came home with the printed version (we do not have a printer, so things like this require an extra step). I signed it, and prepared for it to be scanned and emailed to the Kitsap County Auditor the following day. Read the rest of this entry
I am here to demystify the glamour and intrigue of expat life. Yes, it is awesome. Yes, every day is different. However, nothing in life is perfect. Here are some of the setbacks:
1.) We experience water cuts 2-3 times a month
2.) A trip to the grocery store is an adventure that often results in longing for recognizable ingredients, bottled sauces and familiar products from home. I once spent an hour in the grocery store in search of bleach.
3.) You cannot talk in shared or public spaces without stares, warnings and disapproval.
4.) There are no clear rules or procedures for any activity. Consistency is a foreign concept. It always depends on who you talk to and what they are feeling at the time.