Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holidays!

My sister and I spent Christmas together and made blini for dinner with smoked salmon, cream, pickled seaweed, deviled eggs and vodka. Then we had macarons and tea for dessert. Tomorrow we're joining the rest of our family in Beirut for New Year's. Beirut is a fun city on any night, so New Year's Eve will be out of this world! I plan on taking loads of pictures.

Have a Harika Holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Market Day

It was a cold, damp market day in Levent, a district of Istanbul. I love the markets for their liveliness, and for all the goodies you can find. Just about anything is available, from gorgeous produce to leather bags to frilly panties. The air is perfumed with all sorts of wonderful smells— onions, fresh cheese, pomegranates, olives, roasting chestnuts. The vendors often have great senses of humour and powerful sets of lungs— singing and shouting out prices and offers. I've been looking forward to this all week since just about all my socks have mysteriously formed holes in them, and this is the best place to find fun and inexpensive clothing.

The temperature has dropped considerably— we're expecting snow tomorrow, so to warm my hands (and fill my stomach) I picked up a gözleme. Gözleme is one of my favourite Turkish street foods, it's a hand rolled pastry sealed with your choice of filling and cooked on a convex griddle. Today it was spinach and beyaz peynir, literally 'white cheese', a sort of feta. You can also get your gözleme filled with potatoes, eggs, meat, mushrooms or a combination of these ingredients.

In addition to a few pairs of colourful socks (I never wear white or plain socks), I found a black jersey shirtdress, a long white button-down shirt, some lovely canary yellow yarn, and I couldn't resist some pomegranates, mandarins and oranges. Since I can only knit rectangles, I'll be making myself a scarf in the next few weeks.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kapalı Çarşı

Today I went to the Kapalı Çarşı (Kapa-luh Char-shuh), otherwise known as the Grand Bazaar. 58 labyrinthine streets of carpets, scarves, silver, leather, hidden cafés and just about anything imaginable. Parts of it date back to 1455. It's a fantastic place to get lost in, and no matter how hard I try, I just can't leave without picking up a thing or two. Today I left with two boxes from Afghanistan— I've had my heart set on acquiring a few of these for years— and a brilliant blue scarf. Lunch was a delicious chicken döner sandwich from a little stand outside the bazaar. Döner literally means "to turn," it's meat on a vertical spit thats shaved off into a fluffy piece of bread with anything from french fries and cabbage to tomatoes and pickles stuffed inside. Whether it's a chicken or a lamb döner, it's my all-time favourite sandwich.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Bosphorus

It was a foggy, hazy day today with a little chill in the air. I spent a couple hours in the afternoon lazily sketching on the balcony with a cup of hot tea. On the left is Asia, on the right, curving around to where I am sitting, Europe. I love watching the fishing boats casting and pulling up their nets, and the big tankers carefully winding their way down the Bosphorus.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"...many whispered among themselves that it was a most ordinary affair..."

A Mall is a Mall

Today I went with my mom and sister to Istinye Park, a fairly new mall in Istanbul. It's quite large, and feels just like any other mall with the exception of a lovely section on the bottom floor made to resemble the bazaars. There's fresh fish, spices, vegetable and fruit stands and my favourite— the nuts and dried foods stand. There are all sorts of delectable little goodies, apricots stuffed with almonds, these fabulous long chewy molasses tubes stuffed with walnuts called sucuk (soo-jook)— which is also the same word for a type of sausage.

Another thing I found interesting was the Christmas décor. I've been told that Christmas has become very popular in parts of Turkey as a gift-giving holiday, with the religious bit omitted. I saw tinsel, trees and Santas, loads of wrapping papers and some snowmen.

Lunch at the food court doesn't necessarily mean suffering through McD's or some MSG-laden Chinese food— you can certainly do that if you choose, but there are all these restaurants that serve a more traditional Turkish fare. I love them. I had manti, little pillows of dough filled with meat in a tomato sauce topped with yoghurt, mint and hot pepper. Ayran (eye-ron) was my drink of choice; a nice cold beverage made of water, yoghurt and salt.

Later on this week I'll be going to the Grand Bazaar, possibly the oldest still in-use shopping mall. It's a fantastic labyrinth of a place with avenues and alleys of carpets, jewellery and just about anything you can imagine. I can't wait— it's one of my favourite places in Istanbul, a great place to get some sketching done.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Good Morning

It's a gorgeous day. The fog is slowly lifting off the Bosporus, the fishing boats are scattered about the the tiny bays formed by the curves of Asia and Europe, the sun is shining and some crows are cawing nearby.

The journey was a long one, a three and a half hour flight to O'Hare, three hour layover and a nine hour and forty-five minute flight to Istanbul. I have to say that this was the most pleasant trip I have taken in a while— the airport staff at SFO, O'Hare and Atatürk International were really friendly and helpful.

I haven't flown Turkish Airlines in several years, and was happily surprised by the changes made to the cabin. There was considerably more legroom in the Economy Class than in most airlines I have flown, and the seats were upholstered in this soft vibrant turquoise fabric. Above the windows were pink lights that gently tinted the cabin in a warm rosy glow, and the ceiling above the overhead baggage compartments was lit with a vivid blue light, giving the cabin a loungey vibe. Each seat had its own screen in the back of the seat in front of them, with an interactive touch screen menu and remote control in the arm rest. There was a variety of programming to choose from, current Hollywood movies, Bollywood movies, cartoons and something I've never seen before— a live camera with the pilot's view of the sky! How exciting it was to watch the takeoff and landing as if you were in the cockpit!

The food wasn't anything to write about, but plentiful and free, unlike so many other airlines that make you pay for measly little prepackaged boxes of junk food. Oh— and I was delighted to see and down several glasses of one of my favourite childhood drinks, vişne suyu (veeshne soo-yoo), sour cherry juice. It's sour and sweet and oh-so-divine! I would give Turkish Airlines four out of five peanuts on my Airline Fabulousness scale.

When I arrived, the airport wasn't too crowded and I was able to breeze through the visa and passport control lines. My two enormous suitcases safely arrived— I always get a little nervous when my luggage doesn't come turning around the conveyor within the first three minutes— and I took off. Below are the first images of Istanbul I took on the ride home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hello, Home!

Many, many hours later, I have arrived.
I pretty much walked in the door, unpacked a little, showered, sat down and didn't get up until this moment. Exhaustion is amazing in how it can just sweep over you. My laptop isn't set just yet, so this post will be brief and imageless. I can tell you that I was probably the happiest girl that ever went through Passport Control at the Istanbul airport, beaming from ear to ear and squeezing out the few Turkish words I knew to a good-humoured airport security team. Tomorrow I hope to fill you in on some more details, including a review of Turkish Airlines, which was fabulous and included a live camera of the pilots' view for passengers to watch on their individual monitors!

Friday, December 12, 2008

So this is it.

It still hasn't sunk in.
Even though I am sitting on a bare floor staring at two suitcases and a carry-on. In three hours, I'll be on my way to the airport, to my new life in Istanbul.