Friday, December 30, 2011
In my post from last week about wrapping presents, I mentioned that the previous tenant left a large number of shoeboxes in our apartment when we accidentally told her it was okay for her to do so. There were several people who wanted to know more, or more specifically, wanted to see more.
So there you go. I count 66 boxes in this picture alone, and there are two rows not pictured. That's a lot of shoes. I have eight pairs of shoes myself right now. I encourage you all to count your shoes and determine how many pairs you think would make your collection excessive. I think my number is somewhere around fifteen. No judgment - I would love to be at a place in my style where I could figure out what to do with dozens of shoes, but I'm not there yet.
Also, a shout-out here goes to Niko for buying a new light bulb for our utility closet and therefore making this picture possible. Least Lazy Roommate Award goes to him!
Thursday, December 29, 2011
I'm a big fan of fruit. It's sweet like a dessert and healthy like bran (or some other gross but healthy food). When I first moved into my apartment there was this nice guy who sold fruit, and everyday I bought a peach from him. Then, when the seasons changed, I bought an apple a day from him. I knew he was overcharging me for this fruit but I had a "buy local!" mentality. I could have purchased fruit more cheaply from the grocery store. I went to him for my produce needs, including the weird leafy vegetables, until he went out of business at the beginning of this month.
So I've switch produce suppliers. This is my new one:
Look how pretty everything is! This cornucopia is conveniently located on my way home from work. I bought oranges the other day; they were inexpensive, and the man threw in an extra one for free! If there's one thing I love more than fruit, it's cheap fruit!
I'm trying to stick to seasonally appropriate purchases. This, and the desire to buy from small businesses, stems from my Princeton-born awareness of the benefits of purchasing local foods. Buying from independent sellers keeps them in business, and buying in-season fruit keeps the energy required to transport them from tree to shelf low. The next level is buying from the growers themselves but that's not really an option - no farmer's markets.
But really, doesn't this fruit stand just look prettier than a grocery store?
I arrived back in Istanbul early this morning and thought I would post a little bit more about my trip to Dubai before returning to our regularly scheduled programming. First is a gorgeous picture of the Burj Khalifa at sunset.
Just so you know, they have a wide range of music that the fountain "dances" to. The song after this was the theme song to The Magnificent Seven. Anyway, I had a great break from Istanbul, and I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas in the Middle East.
You can tell from this picture, which is the view from Amy's house, that the Burj Khalifa completely dwarfs every other building to the point where the sun still shines on it after the sun has set on the other buildings in the skyline.
On Christmas Day, Amy and her mom and I went to the Dubai Mall to see The Dubai Fountain, which was built by the same company that designed the fountain in front of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. We scored a great table overlooking the fountain and...
Just so you know, they have a wide range of music that the fountain "dances" to. The song after this was the theme song to The Magnificent Seven. Anyway, I had a great break from Istanbul, and I couldn't have asked for a better Christmas in the Middle East.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Fun! Fun! Fun! Christmas fun! This is a picture of our Dubai Christmas tree and all of the presents that came with it!
It's a palm tree decorated with pictures of the sheikhs and the UAE colors. The tree topper is a camel muzzle which is used to keep camels from spitting on everyone and everything. After we opened presents, we went to breakfast at the Intercontinental where they had a life sized gingerbread house!
According to the sign it took over 200 kilograms of eggs to make. There were more facts about it but I've forgotten them and the sign with that information is obscured by the white fence in the photo. Oops.
Today we went sightseeing for a little bit. We headed down to the beach, which was full of tourists, she said with a haughty tone. It's hard to be disdainful though when I am a tourist myself. Apparently, in the summer, it is so hot that the beach is empty. Winter is beach time here!
There was also a great view of the Burj Al Arab. It the iconic image of Dubai, and it's supposed to resemble a boat's sails. From what I've been told, when you view the Burj Al Arab from the sea, a helipad intersects with the vertical edge of the building, or the sail's mast, and gives the illusion of a cross. Some were not too happy about that for obvious reasons. But it's only from a certain angle and most people don't view the building from that direction so it wasn't that big of a deal. Not a big enough deal to tear it down and start again anyway.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
I arrived yesterday morning, and I was immediately whisked out of Dubai to the smaller town of Al Ain. And we saw giraffes...
...at the zoo. We saw white lions, flamingos, and a whole bunch of animals that I had never heard of or seen before. Like oryxes, gemsboks, and ibexes. Yes, they all sort of look the same.
We also saw Jebel Hafeet, the tallest mountain in the UAE. Apparently, some of it is in Oman. On the right side of the photo, you can see some royal dude's palace overlooking his entire desert kingdom.
Also on top of the mountain is the most inconvenient convenience store I think I've ever seen.
Credit for that joke goes to Mr. Ridgeway, by the way. After we got back to Dubai, we took a short break and then headed back out. This time we went to Global Village! It's a kind of world's fair. There are dozens of countries who have their own sections filled with booths selling their country's goods. They also have fair rides like this ferris wheel!
Of course, they have a huge Turkish section full of the usual. We walked around for a while, and it was great to be able to listen in on conversations among vendors. Sneaky Turkish skillz.
All told, I got bracelets from India, a ring from Zanzibar, dinner from China, and baklava from Turkey. I couldn't resist!
I left Istanbul late Thursday night. Just like in every city ever, Atatürk International Airport is far away from everything and public transportation is just not a time/cost efficient option. So this is what me and my roommates do: we take public transportation to Taksim and then take a Havataş bus to the airport. The Havataş bus is great. It's a private bus company and they charge 10 lira ($5) to take passengers directly to the airport.
The total trip was about an hour and a half, which is pretty good considering the fact that the airport is 20 miles from my house and there is always traffic. Also, note that those 20 miles are full of solid city, like downtown-style. The outskirts don't happen for a long while and the suburbs are so far away we don't even go. Istanbul is huge.
I love travelling by myself. It makes me feel responsible and independent. I get a few hours where I don't have to talk to anyone to do anything, and I get to sleep and watch movies. It's great.
I had a layover in Bahrain from 6-7am that was boring but I got to take a bus from the terminal to the tarmac and walk onto the plane while the sun rose behind us! That was cool. And, hey, now I've been to Bahrain!
On the flight to Dubai I started wondering about a visa. No one had told me to get one or mentioned anything about it, but I also hadn't thought about visas at all. Turkey requires a visa but you pay for it at the airport, and I was hoping the UAE did something like too. I also briefly devised a Plan B and a Plan C, in case I was supposed to have secured a visa before I arrived in the country. Luckily, it turned out that Americans don't need a visa! Yeah America! Way to get along well with other countries!
If you squint at this picture, you can see the Burj Kalifa. This building is sooooooo tall. It looks double the size of all the other buildings around it. It's also featured in the new Mission Impossible movie, as is Amy's dad's office building. Cool.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
There's not much to say today. In a few short hours I will be heading to Dubai, where the highs are in the 70's. I pass by this Christmas tree everyday and thought I would add it to the collection of holiday pictures I've been posting. I think that it is technically a New Year tree, though.
Most Turks that I have talked to don't really differentiate between Christmas and New Year. The holidays happen so close together, and of course they don't really celebrate the birth of Jesus, so they re-appropriated the Western Christmas decorations for New Year decorations. When I told Turkish friends I would be gone for Christmas, they assumed that I wouldn't be back until 2012.
But I'll be in Istanbul for 2012. This city does a great job of decorating with lights, I wouldn't miss New Year's Eve in this city for anything.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
I am leaving tomorrow night to go to Dubai to be with my roommate from college Amy and her family. They moved this summer from Oklahoma so it'll be a different Christmas for all of us. Spending Christmas differently isn't bad. It's just different. There's enough of the same to remind me that it's Christmas but not enough to make up for the fact that I'm not with my family. It's weird, and I flip-flop with being okay with it and being sad about it.
I don't have a tree, I'm not making cookies, and I haven't seen the "He does exist! They do exist!" M&M commercial. So I threw my weight into presents. I won't say what I bought for everyone but I will share my wrapping adventure from this evening.
First, I went to a bookstore to buy wrapping paper. Second, while they do have rolls of wrapping paper like I'm used to, they also have sheets. I bought these shiny silver sheets that happen to look a lot like foil in this picture. Ridgeways, I promise I didn't wrap your gifts with foil. Third, my gifts are weirdly shaped so I needed boxes. And I was lucky enough to find some shoeboxes lying about the house!
At this point, I should tell you that before we rented this apartment we met the woman who was living here. As she was showing us around, we were nodding politely and generally agreeing with everything she said, including "I have this room full of shoeboxes that I can leave for you guys if you want." Now, I believe it was Abby who said, "Yeah, sure, we could always use shoeboxes" but we were both responsible for not saying, "Thanks, but no thanks!" She left them behind when she moved out. Just now, I did a quick approximation, and there are over 70 shoeboxes in our laundy/utility room. SEVENTY.
So I decided to start putting them to use today. Amy's box was't the right size so I cut it down and taped it back together. These are the extra pieces:
I happened upon two lids that fit into each other perfectly so I used those for Mrs. Ridgeway's present. Mr. Ridgeway's was more difficult. I pulled out a whole bunch of lids to try to find two that would fit my present and fit together.
By the way, this woman had great taste in shoes. Interestingly enough, she did leave us an actual pair of shoes. They're boots that I wear at least once a week. Anyway, I found two lids that were pretty close to fitting.
I taped them together, which wasn't very pretty, and wrapped them. The outsides are beautiful and the presents are beautiful, it's just the boxes that aren't exactly lookers. All stacked together they give me warm, fuzzy Christmas feelings.
I have one more thing to buy tomorrow and some more ribbon. The bookstore didn't sell ribbon by the roll but rather by the meter, and I miscalculated how many meters I would need for those pretty ribbon curls, which Niko helped curl.
By doing a little shoebox magic I have 1) Made the gifts prettier than just wrapping the awkwardly shaped things, 2) Made smaller containers that will fit better in my suitcase, and 3) Began chipping away at the shoebox mountain. Guess which one I'm most proud of.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Today was my birthday! It didn't really feel like my birthday though. It was the first birthday that I've spent away from home; also, my mom takes my birthdays very seriously and there's always a great party. So it was weird this year. Weird but good. I went present shopping for Amy and her family who I'm seeing in Dubai and then I had dinner with one of my very first Turkish friends, Kerem.
This is a picture of our dessert. It's a face that's smiling at both Kerem and me. We met three and a half years ago on my first trip to Turkey and went three years without seeing each, and as soon as I arrived in Istanbul, he just HAD to go back to Oxford. So he's back again for the winter break and we took some time to catch up.
I tend to get pretty lazy when it comes to studying Turkish but dinner tonight renewed my efforts. Our conversations reminded me of Turkey back in the old days of 2008. It reminded me of the fun that I had in that summer and why/how I became interested in Turkish in the first place. Over the course of three years, I have forgotten the path that led me to where I am now. Literally where I am now. I forgot how I got from being a freshman at Princeton to sitting on this couch and typing this.
Kerem can be found throughout this crazy story but most importantly, he can be found at the beginning.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Tonight we had a birthday dinner for me! Tomorrow is my real birthday but we did dinner tonight for the hell of it. I don't have a lot of photo documentation for this evening but here's the story.
First of all, Abby had me wear her fez. She bought it for her Dr. Who costume (apparently The Doctor wears a fez and thinks they're cool. She's a hardcore fan.). Anyway, she wanted to make sure we got plenty of use out of it so she made it the "Birthday Fez."
So I wore it all night. After much research we decided to go to this restaurant that was split into two. One side was casual and reasonably priced and the other was très fancy. Abby made reservations for the casual side, and when the restaurant called Abby to confirm there was a little miscommunication. They told her that there would be no room on the casual side because of a futbol match and we would have to sit on the très fancy side. Abby tried to make sure that we would get the casual prices but we are foreigners and get screwed over often.
We were given appetizers without seeing a menu, and when they gave us the menu it was sooo très fancy that there were no prices listed. So we explained that we didn't want main courses, we wanted the bill. For appetizers and one drink each it was 300 lira. That's ridiculous.
So we left to get ice cream and passed this awesome Christmas tree.
Yes, those are disco balls. Really this picture is for my mother who loves shiny things. All in all, it was a great birthday dinner. The ice cream was awesome, we piled six people into a cab to come home, and Niko made an apple spice cake just for me! It was great.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
On Thursday I'm flying to Dubai to spend Christmas with my roommate from Princeton, Amy, and her family. People expect gifts this time of the year so today I went to see what I could find for these awesome people who are sharing their home with me. I ended up at Paşabahçe; this store is very cool. It has lots of stuff for the kitchen downstairs but upstairs the place sells handmade Turkish things for home decorations. I'll take more pictures next time.
I was downstairs in the regular kitchen section looking for Turkish coffee cups, and I found these very simple and classy cups. When I flipped them over...
Yes, they were made in the UAE. That's where Dubai is for those who aren't up on their geography. It seems silly for me to bring something "Turkish" to Amy's family when it really came from the country they are already in. Why can't I just buy them when I get there? Because they don't have Paşabahçe in Dubai - this is a Turkish store that sells Turkish things.
So if I buy these cups, I'll be bringing them back to their true motherland. How nice of me.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Abby's sister is visiting us this week! She is a freshman at Northwestern and is spending the first week of her winter vacation here. Both of them are leaving for America on Monday, and I know I'll be lonely without them here by my side so I'm spending as much time with them as I can. On Wednesday the three of us went to Şişhane to see a band called Junior Boys.
They are an electro-pop group, and they sounded awesome. I didn't know any of their songs but I still found myself bouncing along to their beats.
The concert also gave me a peek into an Istanbul subculture: I've found the hipsters. Well, they're not hipsters exactly but they've got that very cool Anthropologie look going - without actually having an Anthropologie. The girls at this concert had style.
Anyway, check out Junior Boys. The band has been around for over ten years and based on the number of YouTube plays, I certainly didn't discover them. In fact, this song that I really like is from 2007. They gave a great concert, and I'm glad that I was able to not only listen to them live but also see the Turks that are into electro-pop.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
This blog post is going to be photos that I can't justify writing an entire blog post about. So bear with me as I bring your attention to some random things that I've found amusing. First, Sperry's.
Yes, Sperry's have made their way to Istanbul. I have to say that the guy wearing these Sperry's looked very cool in his red pants. Much cooler than this Canadian Mountie wannabe:
Look at this buff dude crossing the road safely within the crosswalk! He seems a little over-prepared to me but if you walk as he walks, you will make it to the other side of the street safely. Promise. Next:
Ads for Nutella have been making there way around Istanbul in the past month or two. I see them mostly at bus stops but I saw this one last night on the Metro. It is touting Nutella as "Morning's energy." This makes sense because if you eat sugar for breakfast, you will feel energetic. Give it to your kids! Similarly, the American Nutella commercials tell you that you can get your kids to eat wheat bread if you smother it with Nutella. Sugar - it masks the taste of healthy food and makes you hyper!!!!!!!!!!
Finally, one of the wireless networks near our house is titled "Beam Me Up Scotty."
I have not idea who this funny person is or where they live but I take comfort in the fact that a Trekkie lives nearby.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Awwww yeah. This girl (meaning me) got the best bus seat in the house! I didn't have to have to make anyone move to get it either.
The bus is clearly empty so it wasn't that sweet of a victory but I still felt pretty good sitting in this seat. To recap, this seat is the best because it's not in the front where you'll probably have to give up your seat to an old person, but it's not in the back. You get the front row of the second section and all the legroom you can stand.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Have you ever learned something that's so obvious you don't know how you didn't know it already? That's what it was like when I discovered that pomegranates grow on trees. The reason that I didn't know was mostly because I had never actually thought about it before.
On Sunday morning I walked by this tree. I saw what I assumed were red ornaments hanging from it; lately I've seen some pretty half-assed Christmas decorations. But it was a pomegranate tree! I had honestly never thought about where pomegranate seeds come from until yesterday.
They seemed to have been picked over by birds, which was pretty convenient for me. The seeds were the only way that I was able to identify that they were, in fact, pomegranates and not cheap Christmas ornaments.
So yes. Pomegranates grow on trees. The trees are found from Southern Europe all the way across the Middle East to that great continent of Asia, and they produce winter fruit! I'm just saying that to remind myself that I properly identified a plant. Also, thanks to this post, I have learned how to spell pomegranate!
(My friend Katherine calls pomegranate seeds "nature's gushers," and they are one of her favorite frozen yogurt toppings.)
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Tonight I was supposed to meet my roommates at Bodrum Mantı in Arnavutköy, which I've taken to abbreviating AVK because I'm cool like that. I decided to try a new route and walk straight from Etiler (near Akmerkez) to AVK without going back home to Bebek. The walk was long, and at some point I decided to "live-blog" it. Kind of, I mean I began audio recording my thoughts and the time at which they occurred. Here you go!
6:32 - Ok, I can see the back of Akmerkez, which means I haven't gone very far. There's a cat. It's running away from me. I'm happy about that.
6:21 - I am walking down Arnavutköy Yolu. I don't actually know where this road leads but I'm hoping that Turkey has the same tradition that America has of naming the road after the place where it goes.
6:30 - I have been walking for nine minutes. I'm following the signs!
6:31 - We're in a very residential area; I'm glad I walked through here or else I wouldn't have known that all these houses are here. Abby and I are always trying to keep our eyes out for good places to live. It's pretty windey, and it's getting steeper.
6:33 - The road is still curving. I have no idea where I'm going to come out in Arnavutköy. I've lost my mental map of where I am in relation to, well, everything.
6:34 - Puppy! I haven't learned how to say, "Can I pet your puppy?" yet so I just go ahead and pet them and make the owners stand there and indulge me.
6:35 - I'm walking by a mosque, and it might be one that I usually see from the bottom of the hill. If so, I've regained my bearings. (Spoiler alert: It wasn't the mosque.)
6:36 - A bus stop! Man, I gotta figure out this bus. It would be perfect.
6:37 - Shortcutting my way through a park! (Spoiler alert: It wasn't a shortcut.)
6:38 - Approaching civilization! Wait, the signs say I'm still in Etiler. This might be a longer walk than I thought it would be.
6:54 - I have arrived at my destination! Bodrum Mantı! Out of sheer exhaustion I forgot to take a picture. And the exhaustion wasn't from walking, it was instead from trying to simultaneously record my thoughts, take pictures, and deal with the crazy looks I got. I lead a very hard life.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
These are pictures that I took when we were at Galata the other night. I like the lighting in both of them.
This is a picture of Galata Tower from the base. It was built in the 14th century! Now, it's a tourist site all on its own but it also gives you one of the greatest views of the Old City in Istanbul. This second picture is of a building that is always lit in blue. I don't know what the building is but it's pretty!
This is on the path down the hill that Galata Tower is located on. The building is white and when its bathed in blue, it's ethereal.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Today Chris' friend came into town so we went out to a wine bar to celebrate. The wine bar is called Sensus, and it only serves Turkish wine. It's right next to Galata Tower inside the basement of a hotel, and it has a real cellar-y feel to it. The floors and walls are all stone, and there is bright but localized light. Lots of bright and dark spaces with everything in between very soft.
The people working there help you make selections on what kind of wine to try, and you can buy it by the bottle or the glass. Tonight we were all drinking the same Cab. I don't know a lot about wine so I can't tell you about the fruity flavors and woody aftertaste or whatever it is that wine people say about wine. I thought it was good.
Back in August, Chris had this idea that we should try a new Turkish wine every week and rate them. He really wanted to know more about Turkish wine and wine in general. It worked for a couple weeks - he would carefully record our impressions of the wine and we would all give it a grade based on taste and price. After tonight, I think it would be fun to get back into that.
Coincidentally my mother and my friend went to a Turkish restaurant in New York City last night and drank a bit of Turkish wine. I asked my mom if she remembered what it was called. She told me all she remembered was that it was the third one down on the list. It seems we could all learn a little something about Turkish wine.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Abby bought Christmas lights for the house! I got home and saw them sitting on my bed and got really excited! I decided to make tonight's blog post about putting up our Christmas lights. Look how cute they are with their small European plug!
We picked out where we wanted them to go; we have this part of the living area that doesn't have an overhead light. We thought the colorful lights would brighten up the room. Christmas spirit! The strand was about ten feet long, and we quickly untangled them to their full length. We plugged that cute little plug into the wall...and nothing. We tried another outlet. And another. We got zip. Actually we got this:
Lights that won't fit back into the box and the prospect of trying to return them like this! 'Tis the season. The next best thing is to make paper snowflakes from recycled Turkish homework and English grammar worksheets. Seems appropriate.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
This, my friends, is Iskender Kebap. And oh baby, is it good. Now, the iskender pictured below is definitely not the best that I've ever had in my life. There are french fries on the top for goodness' sake.
No, no, the best iskender that I've ever had was in Bursa, the town where iskender was invented. It's named after it's inventor (like Fettucine Alfredo!), and you can read all about the origins here.
But more about what happens on the plate. First, they put a layer of bread on the bottom of the plate, then thin lamb slices which are covered in a tomato-butter sauce. Then after they serve it, they come around with a pot of tomato-butter sauce and pour it all over. Tomatos, lamb, bread, butter? Yes. Please.
Since my first iskender experience three years, I've been searching for the next best thing. I'll be honest. There is a Turkish restaurant in Dallas that does this dish a whole lot of justice. I hedge it because I can't in good faith say that the best iskender outside of the city where it was invented is in Texas. It's pretty good though. Check out Cafe Istanbul - they have two locations in Dallas.
As for finding the best iskender in Turkey, it's almost as difficult as finding the best chicken fried steak in America: everywhere makes it and price is definitely a factor. I'll keep searching and let you know what I discover.