Sunday, March 31, 2013


One of the most marvellous things in nature happens every year, like clockwork. Thousands of storks— both black and white, as well as a wide variety of raptors, cross the Bosphorus on sunny days, making their way into Europe. At times, the sky is so full of birds, that you don't know where to point your telescope or binoculars, and while you are eyeing those beautiful storks, a Steppe Eagle slips silently by. We packed a picnic lunch of tuna sandwiches and potato salad, with the added treat of a bottle of wine. I carried the food, and Pedro was in charge of the equipment.

We headed to the hills behind Sarıyer, the northernmost district of Istanbul, just before the mouth of the Black Sea. As we hopped off the bus, the blue above us was already dotted with Lesser Spotted Eagles, Goshawks, and legions of White Storks circling within the thermals. We found an open spot with a view to set up, and settled in. Unfortunately my camera cannot handle the distance or movement of the birds, so all the raptor photos I have are fuzzy at best, making them look like moustaches in the sky, but I managed to get some of the White Storks.

So far, the highlights of the migration for me have been the elegant Black Storks (see one above) and a Griffon Vulture, neither of which I had ever seen before— and wow! Griffon Vultures are HUGE. I also really enjoyed seeing a lone Egyptian Vulture gliding past the cloud of White Storks, which caused a commotion among some nearby Turkish birdwatchers. I saw my first Egyptian Vulture in Pokhara, Nepal, while taking refuge from the heat in the shade of a tree. I looked up into the sky, and there it was: circling above, its white and black feathers contrasting vividly against a deep blue. I had seen them in Oman, and now, like an old familiar face, one was flying above me on the edge of Istanbul.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

winter, you've overstayed your welcome

Spring is here, I swear.

My sprouting sunflowers and marigolds tell me so. As do the twelve singing Alpine Swifts who now swoop above my roof. Two thousand+ storks, who passed over the Bosphorus this Sunday, can't be wrong— neither can all the green and pink buds on the trees.

Then why, why is it still so cold and grey and wet?

Face it, Winter.
Your days are numbered!

Monday, March 25, 2013

a bit of street art

These new and exciting pieces are located across from Urban Café in Beyoğlu.

a delicious discovery

Nearly every day, I pass this tiny hole-in-the-wall fish restaurant on my way home from work, that catches my eye and yet escapes my memory when brainstorming dinner ideas. The little hand-printed signs in the window advertise a four lira fish soup and a take-away option, which I reported back to Pedro with great enthusiasm. So the weekend before last, when we were both racked with a terrible cough and feeling incapable of cooking, Balikçi and its soup came to mind.

Though we were focused on the idea of soup, we were delighted to see a pile of scallops lying on a bed of lemons in the vitrine by the door, and when it was confirmed that they were "Taze— very fresh!" by the owner, we ordered a portion. Indeed they were fresh, and smelled of the sea— and the little morsels of meat were so sweet.

The soup itself was mild and soothing, with plenty of flavour and a generous amount of fish. I believe that soups have a magical ability to heal any woe, and so I squeezed in the lemon and hoped that this one would cure us of our nasty cough. It's refreshing to have a delicious alternative to the ubiquitous kebab, and one that doesn't hurt the wallet— plus the guys at Balikçi were really nice. I suspect this little place will fast become one of our favourites.

Süslü Saksı Sok. No: 28 /
Beyoğlu // 212. 244. 4553

Friday, March 22, 2013

signs of spring

Yesterday marked the first day of Spring— and I almost believed it, as the crocuses were popping their pretty heads up through the soil, but Winter seems reluctant to loosen her hold on Istanbul. The grey persists, and the cold wind whips away evidence that pink blossoms were beginning to bud on our skeletal trees. No, I do not think I'll put away my coat just yet. I did however, see a hopeful sign in the body of a bird; a lone Alpine Swift, arcing through the dismal sky above Tarlabaşı Boulevard. Charm shall return to the city, and the days will stretch into long, warm nights, full of colour.

Today would have been my grandad's birthday.
Today, I got a work permit to teach art.
Today, I think about all the things I am thankful for, and I tell my loved ones how much they mean to me.

Spring is on its way.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

sketches of oman, part 1

The Mutrah Fish Souq was one of the first places I sketched in Oman, among the heaps of brilliantly coloured fish, and the men who had brought them ashore. Pedro and I ended up spending a good two hours there, sketching portraits of both the fishmongers and their catch. This garnered us a great deal of attention and appreciation— everyone was so nice at the market, that I wish we were able to spend more time there.

The very stern-looking man on the right is Said, better known to his fellow fishmongers as Captain Titanic. He tolerated sitting fairly still for us for a good fifteen minutes, and seemed delighted with his portraits.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

a good omen

A wadi is a dried river bed, which can suddenly transform into a torrential channel of mud and water, flooding villages, and anything in its path. On a good day, wadis are excellent places to explore; to find Desert Wheatears perched on rocks, to chase blue-winged butterflies (whose names I must learn), and to discover the skeletal remains of livestock and their predators.

As I readjusted the found turkey feather I had tucked in my hair, there was a flutter of movement out of the corner of my eye. My heart jumped— could it be? I scanned the rocks ahead of us, and locked eyes with an Arabian red fox. I had secretly hoped to see a fox during this trip, but as soon as I could utter the words to alert Pedro and Gil, it hopped over a small boulder, fluffy tail trailing behind. I'm not superstitious, but this felt like a good omen— a wonderful sight on our last day in Oman.

Ma'a salaama, Oman. Shukran.
I hope we meet again.

Friday, March 15, 2013

the edge of both sea and desert

more of that omani flavour

It was Thursday, the first day of the weekend in Oman, and Gil was free to wander with us. We began our morning with some kayaking in the Arabian Sea— which sadly, I have no pictures of, as I feared I would send my camera to a watery grave. The experience was nothing short of magical— the sky, a deep cerulean, met the blue-green sea in a sharp line, that was occasionally broken by the shimmering silver body of a leaping tuna. At first, as it was so quick, I didn't believe my eyes— but then every minute or two, another tuna would rise up into the sky, followed by the less graceful flapping of an acrobatic ray. Rose-ringed Parakeets laughed across the sky, and the rocks to our right held wild pigeons and a couple of herons.

We paddled over to a little cove for a snorkel, which revealed a world of colourful and curious fish, along with one evasive sea turtle. I can't remember the last time I swam in the sea. Surely I've recorded the experience on this blog, but oh how good it felt— the delight of floating in cool, salty water! Upon the rocks, I saw my first mudskippers, and those crabs with the eyes that rest on stalks above their heads— I don't know what they are called, but they were so beautiful.

We reluctantly made our way back to the beach when it was time to return our kayaks, while plotting what we might do with the rest of the day.

While driving along the coast, it was only a matter of time before we found ourselves seated at a little roadside restuarant, where once again, I was the only female— but it didn't seem to matter. Our table was laid with a chart illustrated with fish named in Arabic and English, to which the man serving us pointed to. Everything was good, according to him, but what I wanted was that delicious looking fish the men were digging into at the table behind us— and was that curry?

Though we were kindly offered cutlery, we used our hands, much to the delight of the men at the table to my right. This was, in my opinion, the tastiest meal we ate in Oman. Lime, curry, chili, and goodness knows what spices... but the fish! Oh, the fish. Tender, succulent, and according to the chart, an Emperor. While digesting with a little cup of tea, I pulled out my sketchbook to draw the remains of my feast, which intrigued our neighbours at the table next to us, and won their approval.

Eventually we were called back to the sea, where we negotiated a deal for a boat ride from a wiry man with leathery hands.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

symmetry and mathematics

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is one of the most impressive mosques I have ever seen— from the outside, at least. Visiting hours for non-Muslims are between 8:30 and 11:00 am, every day except Friday. Sadly, we arrived too late to see the inside, but were allowed to sketch the facade from one of the courtyards— which was an enormous challenge. Architectural sketching is not my forté. Drawing this symmetrical and mathematically perfect work of art, was... difficult. I'll post my attempt soon, along with some other sketches.

The mosque covers a staggering 416,000 square metres, and can hold up to 20,000 people— something hard to fathom. While I can continue to toss numbers at you, I'd rather share what I think is the most wonderful thing about the Grand Mosque: the details. Have a look:

Isn't it gorgeous?