Tag Archives: Istanbul

Topkapi Palace Sarai Gardens, Istanbul, Turkey

No matter how far you roam from the land that taught you the axiom “April showers bring May flowers,” the simple rhyme will come to mind whenever you get stuck in a spring rain.

This was true for me when Dave and I wandered through the tulips at Topkapi Palace Sarai Gardens during our Spring 2012 trip to Istanbul, Turkey.

Wander with us, try not to get wet!

Oh come on! It really was not that bad.

That’s the spirit! Now, you just need to tell Dave’s office to stop calling him while we’re on leave.

Maybe this guy can help.

Ah, this is better. Back to the pretty flowers.



Filed under 5-100, Travel

Turkish Blue Steel

Our Istanbul group at dinner, putting on our best Blue Steel faces.


Er, I should say HALF of us giving props to Zoolander!

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Why Do They Hate Us?

After my recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey, I have been thinking quite a bit about the dramatic cultural differences that I observed there. Most of the experiences that stand out in my mind revolve around the interaction between men and women.

In preparation for my trip, I read “Culture Shock! Istanbul” The book was full of opinionated and dated material, and it presented Turks from a more intimate and personal place than I would find myself as a tourist. Still, I gleaned as best I could and prepared myself to play the respectful tourist. My aim was to be present, to observe and record, and to have a fun time (honesty check!).

My airport arrival, visa transaction, and trip into the city were all commonplace and I was lost in the experience of attempting to pronounce “teşekkür ederiz” correctly. When I arrived in the neighborhood of our beautiful airbnb reservation, I started to notice many tidbits from the culture book come alive.

First, a woman in a third-floor apartment was raising a basket she had lowered for a delivery – CHECK! That was described in the book. (P.s. I also saw this happening in Sicily during my 2005 visit to Palermo. Some things Just.Make.Sense…)

Second, the driver was clearly lost, but did not speak to me or any of the other women in the neighborhood. Che-ck? Wait a second! Was this a global gender stereotype or was the male-female barrier dissuading him? He had met my eyes in the rearview mirror a few times, but otherwise completely avoided me. I am prone to giving the benefit of the doubt, so I was still unsure if I could affirm the author’s point of view on gender relations. Of the people standing around watching him slowly drive (and undoubtedly sending someone to alert my “landlord”), the driver spoke to young boys of 8 or 9 years rather than the adult women. That struck me as quite odd. It made sense he might not approach me for help, seeing as how I was so obviously a tourist, yet, how would he know I hadn’t been there before? Or if I could call someone to meet me? He never asked.

Third, the “landlord” who facilitated the airbnb avoided any physical contact with me. CHECK! The culture book’s author had taken great lengths to laud Istanbul’s broad Westernization blended with upkeep of antiquated cultural practices. The young man who arrived to save the driver delivering me to the airbnb startled me with his charming smile, polished English, cheerful interaction with the driver, and complete avoidance of my hand or eyes.

I was poised to be a respectful observer, and felt no need to impose my cultural or personal viewpoint upon him. Does that sound defensive? It does to me, too. Yes, okay, I admit it, in that moment, I deeply wanted to step ever closer to this man with my outstretched hand and see if he would actually back up as I got near him. My instincts to do so were easily subdued as I shifted gears to my completely Western companions and their litany of other gender based relational oddities during my wonderful days in Istanbul.

Yet, as I have recounted these initial impressions, and as I have reflected on my interaction with the world at large, I find a strong intolerance in myself for such socialized disdain for the opposite gender. My opinion of Istanbul is not tainted by these interactions and I had many more wonderful experiences where gender was not an issue, nor a barrier, nor a second thought in my mind. Furthermore, I do not pretend to suggest that all people who practice the cultural norm of avoiding physical contact with unknowns of the opposite gender are acting on the basis of hatred.

Nevertheless, I believe that those who began such traditions were within steps of hatred, if not eating and breathing it daily.

Author MONA ELTAHAWY steps into conversation with her opinions on gender relations in the Middle East. It may be my idealism, my lifetime of experiencing quiet and overt sexism, or my current experience that lead me to cheer her on as I read this article. Why Do They Hate Us? asks the reader to consider a wide array of perspectives presented for the justification of gender divisive rules and laws. Eltahawy dismisses all such justifications in favor of the fight for basic acceptance as an equal member of society, with an equal share of power and self-determination. I am still learning about different cultures, and I may not fully understand the fight, but her words are words I can get behind without hesitation.

I leave you with the words of Ms. Eltahawy, who does not claim to speak “for” (on behalf of) all women, but I would argue she speaks “for” (in favor of) all women.

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman.
***** *****
We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye.

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Nar suyu, Pomegranate juice

Nar suyu was everywhere during my recent trip to Istanbul! Young men pushed carts, overflowing with pomegranates and a juice press, around the tourist attractions. They were selling the freshest version of pomegranate juice that I have ever drank. (Drunk? Grammar police, comment with correction.)

The tourist attractions sometimes offered nar suyu as well, which was the case at the Basilica Cistern. This is a must-see historical landmark, and admission is fairly priced for the experience. Don’t let a long line put you off, either, the line moves quickly.

I digress.

In the cafe near Basilica Cistern’s exit staircase, nar suyu was going for 6TL (Turkish Lira), roughly $3. Or so I remember. For a large glass.

I almost caved at that moment, but decided to hold out for one of the street vendors.

After strolling past the Hippodrome, and wandering past carpet alley (“Where are you from? Wisconsin? Oh! We have an employee who married a woman from Wisconsin.” Yea, SURE you do…), I found myself at the mouth of the Astra Bazaar.

The Astra Bazaar is sort of a sedative to the mayhem of the Grand Bazaar. You can spend bundles of money and get high quality wares in both places, but the experiences are vastly different. The Astra is calm and quiet, the Grand is hyperactive and noisy. “Teamen” (future post, but no surprises lurking here) can be found at both places, but I was looking for pomegranate juice, nar suyu.



Happily, this young man served me.


I would have shown his face, but it would have cost me more TL and he was already taking me on the juice – 10TL a glass! I happily paid it however, tourist season was just beginning and I like to overpay young entrepreneurial kids. Plus, maybe he didn’t want his face on someone’s travel blog even for a couple TL.

The juice was thick and rich. I sipped it for a solid half hour and enjoyed each sweet-tart moment. Tesekkür Ederiz (Thank You) nar suyu entrepreneur!



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Künefe for me, a menu for you

Künefe is an Anatolian specialty that I risked ordering at the same cafe in Istanbul where I succumbed to the tantalizing marketing of Ayran. While my choice of Künefe was even less informed than my Ayran choice, Künefe turned out to be not only a cultural favorite, but a universally understood combination of dessert flavor magic.

As you can see from the menu, all I knew from the outset was that the Künefe is a dessert (sweet!…probably), that is special (ah..yea…so is Ayran…), and it is from Anatolia.

For those of you who might need a geography lesson (like I did as I prepared for my trip to Istanbul…), “Anatolia” is Turkish for…

…in other words, 97% of the country, “Asia Minor” or “Turkey.” So, Künefe is a special Turkish dessert. Still having no idea what would appear on the plate before me, I confidently ordered Künefe.

I was delighted when this plate appeared before my eyes (ah…yea, my photography hand was slower than my fork hand).

Even though a couple of bites are missing, I hope you can visualize a crispy round of fried phyllo dough with those bright pistachios crushed on top; while you’re at it, go ahead and imagine the buttery smell wafting up on heat waves from this delightful dish.

The dessert had taken quite a while and I was still reeling from the Ayran experience, so I timidly took bites from the outer edges. Oh, sweet delight! The preparation time must have allowed the perfect syrup saturation as the heat fried the phyllo dough – it was crispy and crackly, yet still chewy and sweet. What I didn’t immediately know was how wonderful the syrup used to sweeten the dish would mix with the cheese baked into the phyllo dough.

Yes, that’s right! CHEESE in the dessert pastry with syrup!

Künefe presents a wonderful insight to the mysteries of phyllo dough. I was mostly interested in eating Künefe. However, I found this website that describes more of the history of Künefe, as well as a recipe for those brave souls willing to experiment with phyllo dough. If I can convince Dave to take on this challenge, I’ll post the results here.

Until then, we’ll all have to dream about this delectable Turkish dessert…


p.s. I really don’t think bloggers should use “yum” – (nor “post script” cop-outs); I mean, it is kind of a lazy word for describing food, but let’s be real, what other word so universally describes that feeling of the food hitting your taste buds, textures clashing and melting in perfect rhythm in your mouth and slowly sliding down into your stomach as your lips purse into that “MMmmmmmm…” that is the only phrase you are capable of while you recover from the sensory overload of the bite you just ate.

p.p.s. The menu photo is a bit tight, and I considered not including it, but for those curious about cafe menus in Istanbul, this gives much insight.


Filed under 5-100, Food. Cibo.

Istanbul not Constantinople

Tickets booked!


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