Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Indecision!

On Monday, I featured my favorite star in Istanbul. But then today, I saw this one. Now I have no idea which one I like better. 


We were at Akmerkez, a mall, looking for winter accessories that will go with my new coat. There are several stars within the mall but this one definitely caught my eye. Far away it just looks silvery-blue. But then close up, it features Istanbul landmarks. Look!


There's a mosque in that one, and in the one below, you can get a good view of the Bosphorus. We had to move really close to verify that it wasn't actually Sharpie that the artist used. This looks like Sharpie, doesn't it?


It's actually paint! And its title is "Istanbul'un Yıldızı," or "Star of Istanbul." I found the website where you can see pictures of all the stars. This one just happens to be first on the list. I think that means I have good taste? Anyway, I would highly recommend at least scrolling through them. Some are absolutely beautiful and others tend towards the cute. Now that I've seen them all, I would love to go find this one. It looks like a lot of fun. The location that it gives is apparently an 8-mile road, so I'll have to use my Nancy Drew skills to track it down. 

People, which star do you like better? Or do you like one from the website even more than either that I have photographed? To the comment section!

Monday, November 28, 2011

En İyi Yıldız Everrrr

A few weeks ago I mentioned the stars that are scattered all around Istanbul. I also promised to take a picture of my favorite star. Here it is!



I like the look of the star faraway. I always see it as I pass by Beşiktaş on the bus; in fact, today was the first day that I've ever seen it up close. 


 

It has lots of individual fish, which make up a nazar! The color blue, the fish, and the evil eye seem to do a great job of representing Istanbul.

***

(Also, the title "En iyi yıldız everrrr" means "the best star everrrr" but there's no direct translation for "the best ___ ever" in Turkish. This is a problem because I say a lot of things are the best everrrr and need a way to express that in Turkish. My solution is to say/write the first part in Turkish and then tack on the everrrr for emphasis. It's funny, I promise.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Happy Hair

So six months ago, I was really stressed out. Really stressed out. And that stress manifested itself in the form of bald spots. I mean, I have tons of hair so they weren't that noticeable but still, bald spots are not cool. 

I'm happy to report that my hair is now growing back! Thanks, Istanbul! You can see the baby hairs growing back in. They're the ones sticking straight up in the air. 


Yeah, that's much more like it. I credit Istanbul for relaxing me enough to make those beautiful locks come back. Tangible benefits.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weird Leafy Vegetables

I'm bad at grocery shopping, especially shopping for produce. There are several factors that result in purchasing disasters such as this:


The lighting is bad because it's my kitchen but that's a huge pile of white-ish, yellow-ish pieces of a leafy vegetable. I wanted to buy lettuce but I ended up with this.

Now, I am not totally incompetent. I know what lettuce looks like...in America, the land where food is grown to look pretty. So when faced with a wall of leafy vegetable heads that look nothing like the perfectly round, green lettuce that I'm used to, I get confused. At the same time, I haven't learned all of my vegetable vocabulary, so I don't know what to ask for. I usually say I'm making a salad and ask if whatever I'm looking at is good for salad.

In this case, I bought a head of something that was big. Like almost a foot in diameter. But I thought, "Hey, who knows? The outside is green, and it's clearly a leafy vegetable. Let's try it out!" The inside was all yellow/white, like the core of iceberg lettuce. After cracking it open, all I had was a pound of that weird core stuff that no one eats. Niko tasted it and said it was probably some type of cabbage, which I'm not going to eat either. I'll keep experimenting...

Kati - 0, Weird Leafy Vegetables - 1

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Lokma King

What happens when you fry dough and then soak it in honey and then sprinkle it with cinnamon?


Lokma happens. Yummy. This is a picture of some lokma I had a couple weeks ago - coincidentally, the day we signed up for internet, which we finally have (almost two weeks later, as predicted)! These were okay. It's actually hard to find lokma in the city so I was kind of just taking what I could get. 

My first encounter with lokma was in the beach town of Bodrum, when I went traveling around with my friend Stephen for my first week in Turkey. We found the mother-lokma. Watch this guy in action:

video

I call this guy the "lokma king." Pretty awesome, huh? Last week, Chris tried to make lokma and failed really hard. He's been inspired by this video and is going to try again. Who knows? With internet and a lokma prince in the house, I just might never go outside again.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Haiku

 Look at this full plate!


Awww yeah. Pass some gravy, please.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Afiyet Olsun!

"Afiyet Olsun Türkiye!"


Just like the French say "Bon Appetite," the Turks say "Afiyet Olsun." "Türkiye" technically refers to the country but if you say it in English, you can get a good Turkey/turkey joke in there.

And yes, I'll be eating turkey in Turkey in 17 short hours. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Aisle 6

Spotted in the grocery store, specifically in the exotic spice aisle:


TEXAS BBQ SENSATION! Holy cowpokes, this is exactly what I've been looking for! Ok, not really. I was shopping in MacroCenter, a large grocery store that carries both regular Turkish grocery store items and more international fare. The taco supplies, barbecue sauce, and Indian curries were all in the same section. 

While I passed on the TEXAS BBQ SENSATION disguised as squeezable grape jelly, there was no way I could pass on these:


Actually I did. But I wanted one soooooo badly. It's a crazy straw with a giraffe on the top. Had the price been marked, I would have bought it, but I was afraid I was bumping against my grocery budget (adult word!). Even now, writing about the crazy straw makes me want one really badly. I'm go back tomorrow now that I'm reminded of how whimsical they are.

Sorry, TEXAS BBQ SENSATION, I won't come back for you - you're just offensive.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

More On The Huge Hill

I wanted to give those not familiar with The Hill a visual to illustrate how high this thing goes. I live at the bottom, not that high above the water, but a five minute walk inland. Today, I documented my walk up the hill and photographed my resting points. We'll begin at my first resting point, a four minute walk from my house.


This is the view! Isn't it nice? The weather is ugly but it's okay because on hot days, I have already melted by this point. The next leg is shorter but it still takes me four minutes because it's so steep. This is the view at that resting point. 

We're about two levels of houses above my own. Meaning, you can't even see the roofs of the houses that are at our height on The Hill. The next leg takes anywhere from 5-7 minutes - it's longer but not as steep. 



Usually the weather is different at the top of The Hill. If it's raining at the bottom, it won't be raining at the top. We can now see the sun peaking from behind those hills on the other side! It's a nasty 15 minutes but the view, and the weather, is better from way, way up here. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Emily Elbert

In 2007, I was watching a local morning talk show in Dallas and saw this girl give a spectacular performance. Four and a half years later, I'm listening to her live at a bar in Istanbul, Turkey. The world is funny. 


Her name is Emily Elbert, and oh man is she amazing. You should check her out on YouTube. She sang this song last night at a bar in Istanbul. Listen and fall in love with her voice. You're welcome. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanks But No Thanks

So there's the bus stop that during the day is busy busy busy. At night when the buses are running more infrequently, it becomes a place where taxis wait. Last night while waiting for the bus, we were able to observe the quality of taxis that run at night.


The first cab that we walked by had the hood up and the trunk open. As we walked by the driver lifted his head from the engine and asked if we needed a ride. We politely declined. The longer we sat there the more cabs we saw that had basically come to die at this bus stop. Five minutes after we arrived, a cab pulled up; its bumper was falling off. A group of men surrounded it and a couple of them began helping the driver remove the dangling bumper - by kicking it off and then putting it in the trunk. Then they went to work on the engine. Eventually, the taxi was up and running again.

As he prepared to jet off into the night to score unsuspecting riders, he turned to us.

"You need a taxi?"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Visual Balderdash Gibi

Every Thursday, Abby goes to the Kuka Kafe in Beşiktaş for game night. Usually I don't go but tonight I was in the neighborhood and decided to show up. Abby loves games. Loves. Them. She even brought games from America to Turkey. This is a picture of one of her games that we played tonight, Dixit.


Basically there are a bunch of cards with these beautiful abstract images on them. Whosever turn it is says a phrase to describe an image in their hand. Then every player plays a card from their hand that they think best fits the description. The goal is to have people pick your card from the set of played cards. But you don't get any points if a) everyone picks your card or b) no one picks your card. So your description has to be both vague and specific.

We play this game at home a lot in both English and Turkish. It's fun, and it lets me practice my Turkish! What more could a girl in Istanbul want?



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1.75 tl tour

So I was going to write a blog post about how you can just take public transportation around the city and it's the same as a cheap tour. But here are the best pictures I was able to capture from the moving tram. 



This is a picture of The Old City. That's the Hagia Sofia there in the background. The second picture is also of the Hagia Sofia but it's pretty terrible (Update: So terrible that I mislabeled it as the Hagia Sophia. It's actually the Blue Mosque). The tram goes a lot closer to it but I couldn't get a picture.



The point is, I suppose, that you can take the tram to the tourist spots but you will have to get off the tram to fully enjoy the sights. The cheap tour only allows you to see new things, not really experience them. My favorite 1.75 tl tour is riding in the front row of the second level of a double decker bus. The whole front is a window and you feel like you're flying. You can bring a fake steering wheel and pretend like you're driving the bus but people might think you're weird. But I think it would still be fun. 

Abby and I made a plan today to take a 1.75 tl tour every weekend. We will find a bus going to a place that we've never heard of/never been to and ride it until the end of the line. Then explore slash eat lunch. Sounds like a great plan. I believe in the 1.75 tl tour. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Like A Rhinestone Scorpion

I saw these rain boots today while waiting for the bus. Those are rhinestones there, in case you can't tell. 


What are your thoughts on these bad boys? Awesome? Weird?  Is there any creature that could be rhinestoned and actually look good? Is there a point at which the rhinestones go from scary to fabulous? Could a geometric pattern work on these boots? Would the rhinestone scorpion look hot on a shirt or other article of clothing? I need answers!

In any case, I wish I could rock them like this lady was.


(ps- Abby thinks a rhinestone rhino would be cool. I think she just likes to say it out loud and hasn't fully thought about what rhinestoned rhinos on rain boots would look it. But seriously, say it out loud. It's fun.) 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

American Goodies

My mom sent me a bag of stuff from America. This picture represents my favorite things.


Starting at the top we have my new class ring! I'm allergic to the nickel in white gold so I had to get it redone in silver. It came back a few weeks after I left (my right ring finger has been sad since I got here). Below that we have the most perfect gray nail polish - my mom found it. Next to that is the moisturizer that I cannot make it through a winter without. It's really expensive in Turkey so I had to have it imported (that sounds so serious). There's also my favorite chapstick. Above that we have awesome office supplies: index cards, post-it notes (expensive unless you buy off-brands), and my favorite pens and mechanical pencils. New shoes (and old shoes not pictured), two novels (English books are really expensive here), makeup and razor blades that can't be found here. And finally, the hottest commodity of them all: tampons.

Yes, my friends, the ones with plastic applicators are impossible to find here. For me, this is not okay. I think that an import business based on these puppies alone would allow me to retire by 30. If I put them on the black market, maybe 25. Any friend who visits me is required to bring at least one box. That's my price, and I'm not ashamed to say it. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Elusive 59H

This is the area of Istanbul in which I live: Beşiktaş. My neighborhood is Bebek but the district is Beşiktaş, which also contains the neighborhood called Beşiktaş. Stay with me. 


Anyway, this is a picture of a bus map. All those tiny triangles are bus stops. What the map doesn't show is that the middle of this pink area sits on top of a HUGE hill. Massive. And I live at the bottom, by the water. And I get to walk up it everyday. Now, I see on this map that there is a bus (59H) that would take me directly from Bebek to Akmerkez but according to the bus website, there's is no such bus. So I hike an hour everyday day to Akmerkez and then about forty minutes back. Yep, this hill is so massive that going downhill shaves off 15-20 minutes of total walking time.

When I'm lucky enough to experience transportation that does go directly from Point A to Point B, it still goes wrong. This morning I was on the tram, and it was a little crowded. I could barely make it inside. What I didn't realize was that I was a bit too close to the door and my hair had greatly expanded (shout out to humidity!). When the doors to the tram slid together, my hair got caught. Yep. That was me! It didn't really hurt but it was uncomfortable when my head wanted to move but couldn't actually go anywhere. 

My friend Berker and this old man laughed at me. And you know, the ridiculousness was hilarious. It wasn't a big deal, the doors would open at the next stop, right? Wrong. The doors opened on the other side of the tram at the next stop. The old man started laughing again. And enough people got out at that stop to make it obvious that I was stuck in the door. One acceleration and deceleration later, I was released, and my ride continued uneventfully. 

The lesson is this: Friends, never take your freedom for granted because you never know when the tram doors of life will come and take it away. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good News!

Oh happy day! Do you see this? This is the best thing that has happened to me this week, grilled chicken aside.


This is a picture of Niko signing for our Internet. And thus bringing our two month quest for utilities to an end. Now, we don't actually have Internet in our house yet. We won't get that for another week (in Turkish time, it might be closer to two weeks).

Here's a example of the circles of insanity that are so easy to get caught in here. So when we rented our apartment at the beginning of September, we were told that we didn't need a residence permit to get utilities in our new apartment. This was great news because you need an address to sign up for an appointment to get a residence permit, and the appointments are so backlogged that it takes six weeks to get an appointment. So if we didn't need this permit for utilities, we could just sign up for them the next day instead of waiting the six weeks. We signed the contract.

But it turns out you DO need a residence permit to put utilities in your name. So we have had water, gas, electricity, and internet in our house over the last two months but their acquisition was not exactly kosher.

Last week, Niko got his residence permit (the first of us - I get mine next week) and spent the last hours of the last working day before a four-day holiday securing us water, gas, and electricity. So we went today to sign up for Internet. The last thing. So exciting. 

But it raises a frustrating problem - you can't get a residence permit without an address and you can't get utilities without a residence permit. It wouldn't be an issue if the appointment happened a couple days after signing a contract but SIX WEEKS?!?!? That's ridiculous. Most people have their utilities in their landlord's or company's name but neither of those things was an option for us. 

So yes, this blog post is coming from sketchy Internet sources but hopefully, this time next week our apartment will be fully operational. And I'll consider myself fully settled in my new home. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Big and A Little Thing

Today was the 73rd anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's death. Atatürk is a big deal here. He's the founder of the Turkish Republic. Take your feelings of pride towards George Washington and multiply it by a lot.

Here's a brief article from Today's Zaman about the importance of the day.

"There will also be a ceremony at Dolmabahçe Palace, where Ataturk died at 9:05 a.m. Regardless of where they are, people are supposed to observe a moment of silence at 9:05 a.m. on this day every year. Flags across the country will be flown at half-staff." 

It's a big moment, and people/cars/everything stops. I wish I had taken a picture of it but I wasn't outside and forgot until it was too late. I'll try next year.

***

In unrelated news, for those of you who read about my Cooking Fail, you might be interested in seeing this picture of the beautiful chicken that I grilled tonight.



Oh yeah. It's juicy, not pink, spiced to perfection, and tender enough to shred. The outside wasn't overcooked either. This was the first piece of chicken I have ever grilled in my entire life. And I did it all by myself and without a recipe. I am honestly really proud of myself. It's the little things, you know?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What I Saw While Eating My Biweekly Waffle

I grabbed a waffle and went for a walk tonight around the Bebek park. There's this swanky little cafe/bar right next to the water but also kind of in the middle of the park. 


Pretty, huh? Mariachi music was playing, and it seriously made me want some enchiladas. And a margarita. Pretty much everything listed here. But then Abby reminded me that it was unlikely that I would find good Mexican food in Turkey. I will keep a look out though. If any Turks or yabancılar have suggestions, please let me know! Past that was the park's waterside walk. Here's a dark picture of the boats that are docked. 


In the background is a big hill. There's more to be said about that big hill but it requires a better picture, preferably taken in daylight hours. For now, just look at the lights dotting the hill. Awwww...pretty. Moving right along, we come to this star!


Just like the cows that pop up in cities all over the world, Istanbul has stars that pop up all over. Sometime in September these guys appeared in the park. There are several scattered around the playground and general greenery. While this one is my favorite in this particular park, there is another. I'll take a picture of my favorite, favorite one (that I've seen) the next time I'm around it. It's in Beşiktaş. 

This has been your tour of the Bebek park at night. I hope you've loved the tour as much as I've loved guiding you. Tips are, as always, appreciated. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Henna

Henna isn't exactly a Turkish thing but the house had some left over from a hair dyeing adventure (not mine, promise. although i've been told i need to dye my eyebrows so if anyone has any thoughts on that, let me know). So Niko took to drawing on all of us. I picked the soft swirls that seem to grow out of each other and the dots were Niko's idea. What do you think?


That picture was taken during, and after a couple of hours wrapped in saran wrap, it looked like this. 


It looks pretty orangey. Really, I look orangey too. It's the lighting in my house. I don't look jaundiced in real life. But it darkens up over time. This is today. 


Can you see a difference or does the orangey light mitigate any possible change? Here's a look from our entryway.


Ta-da! I'm a big fan of the viney swirls and dots. Even though it's chilly and I've been wearing long-sleeves so no one else can see it, I know that it's there. It makes me happy to think about the happy pattern that's secretly on my arm. Thanks, Niko!

Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm Gonna Miss Her

Bebek, the beautiful neighborhood in which I live, is a five minute walk to the Bosphorus. It's about a 20 minute walk to the next neighborhood, Arnavutköy. The walk between Bebek and Arnavutköy travels right alongside the water and is absolutely beautiful.


In good weather, fishermen line up to see what they can catch. The fishing isn't actually that good - I've never seen anyone catch anything of notable size. It's pretty much a social activity. 


As you stroll along the waterfront, you have to keep your eye out for lines waiting to be cast. Some people that I know don't enjoy walking past them because of the prevalence of hooks and lines but as a girl who spent her formative years standing in my friend's front yard while he practiced casting, it's not a big deal to me. Here and there you'll see large buckets of water holding small fish. I really don't know if these 5" fish are coming from or going to the Bosphorus, but they seem as happy as they could be swimming around in old yogurt containers. 

I really want to go fishing but I need to learn more Turkish before I attempt to penetrate this sub-culture.  Maybe next spring. I'll post pictures when I do. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cooking Fail

Ok, I tried to make bulgur stuffed mushrooms tonight. Impressive, I know! It was mildly disastrous. It started off well but ended up being a mess.


Abby and I went to MacroCenter today and got tons of groceries. When we got home I set to work. I washed and capped my mushrooms, finely chopped carrots, spinach, and the mushroom stems. Then I preheated the oven. (Well, it's more of a 20 year-old experiment in mixing microwaves and ovens than an actual oven. Also, all the buttons are in German. But it came with the apartment, so whatever.) I converted the recipe to Celsius and preheated the Gewichtsautomatik. Then busted out the bulgur. Saw that it takes 30 minutes to make. Whoops. 

While it was cooking I reviewed my recipe and saw that I had to cover my mushrooms with foil but it turns out that I didn't have any foil. Whoops x2. 

Ok, let's problem solve. The other day I saw Niko making stuffed eggplant in a big pot with a little water boiling (?) around it. So I figured I would do that instead of using the oven. So when the bulgur was finished, I opened the pot and saw that I had made wayyyyy too much. Like, the I Love Lucy episode where Ricky and Fred make a pound of rice per person. It kind of watered-down (bulgured-down) my carrot-spinach-mushroom mix. Sad. 

Oh well, I piled the mixture on the mushroom caps and stuck them in the bottom of the pot with a tiiiiinnnny bit of water. Five minutes later, the tiiiiiiinnny bit of water was boiling and had taken the smallest of my mushrooms out. Now, they were literally watered-down. Whoops.

Pulled the puppies out and let them dry. Voila!


Cute, huh? Actually they don't look too bad. But they tasted terrible. I forgot the spices, and bulgur isn't that flavorful. Good thing I made enough to last until 2012 and good thing I bought a back-up dinner. Who's going to clean the kitchen? 

No but seriously. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Disconnected events

I made pudding. 


Also, our taxi driver today told us he once peed himself upon seeing a bear. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seventy Is The New Bossy

See this old lady in the AmApp hoodie? Yeah, she's awesome. I can't wait until I'm old and I can do crazy things and people will blame it on how old I am.


Today, whilst on the bus home, we stopped and picked up a couple riders. (I promise this isn't a math problem or a joke.) And this old lady got on. This young guy across the row from us hopped up and immediately offered her his seat. That's a typical thing here - everyone is constantly giving up their seat for everyone else. Cool. So anyway, he hops up and she's like, 'No, no, sit.' and he's like, 'No, no, you sit,' then he moves to the middle section of the bus. He's the guy with the guitar.

She doesn't sit either and head to the back of the bus, too. Then she makes this couple get up from their seats in what I call "second section - front row." It's prime bus real estate, really. So this couple gets up and moves, and she settles into her new digs - taking up two seats, if you'll notice. Then she looks at the guy with the guitar and says something along the lines of, 'What are you doing back here? I didn't make YOU move.'*

I can't wait to be able to stake claim to the best bus seats and force everyone to indulge me when I'm old. And, you know, generally do other bossy, selfish things and have people say with a bit of grin, "Oh that Kati, she's so old and crazy."


*This Turkish was translated by my roommate, Abby.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I Hope That's Bougainvillea...Let Me Know If It's Not

A couple weeks ago, my roommate, Niko, and I were trying to find a shortcut, and we ended up stumbling upon a very beautiful church. While he took pictures of the church, I snapped this picture of these beautiful flowers.


At my house in Texas we have bougainvillea like this too. This little side street, with the church and the flowers, reminded me of home. Then I looked in the background of the photo and saw a typical Istanbul sight. A huge hill with houses seemingly built on top of one another. And that's what I like about Istanbul. It's familiar enough to be comfortable but different enough to be exciting. Our shortcut ended up being a longcut, and I'm honestly not sure I could navigate back to this spot. But I can always navigate back to this feeling.

I hope that through this blog those who have never been to Turkey and may be hesitant about a country that seems so different and so far away will begin to get a better idea of the people, of the country, of the land, and most importantly, of my time here.

EDIT: It's a crepe myrtle. The story remains the same otherwise - we have crepe myrtles, not bougainvillea, in our yard. I'm not a botanist, sorry I'm not sorry. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Scariest Thing That's Ever Happened To Me In Turkey

In Turkey, around major national holidays, the streets are decorated like this:


That picture was actually from August's Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı). They put them up again for Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayramı). Republic Day was Saturday so it was about time for the flags to go. Today, I saw them taking the flags down and snapped this crooked picture. Tilt your head slightly to the right:


As I walked by the men folding the falling flags, I said my pardon's and tried to scootch by. Just as I got next to this old Turkish man folding the flags, he pretended like he was going to drape the flags over me. I was briefly terrified as I saw the material heading for my head, which only made him laugh harder. I think that these old Turkish men live to pull pranks on foreigners.