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Istanbul is Best with Friends

Sean and McKinze (of “Sean and McKinze” fame… we’ve mentioned them about eighty times so far in our Georgia posts) had finished up their Peace Corps service and were on their way to make their new home in Portland, Oregon… via Turkey, New York City and Iowa. We planned to meet up with them again in Istanbul for a few days.

We cruised the Bosphorus and shared a sugar wafer the size of a manhole cover from a snack seller.

Bosphorous photo

Eminönü

Us - Bosphorus

We laughed at funny English phrases on peoples’ clothing.

Shoes and Corsets

We ate impossibly cheap balık ekmek (literally, “fish bread”) on the Galata Bridge.

balik ekmek

We visited the carpets and manuscripts and carvings at the mysteriously un-airconditioned Museum of Islamic and Turkish Art.

Mosque door

We found a great view of the Blue Mosque, which came with expensive drinks.

Blue Mosque

Turkish coffee

We shared baklava.

baklava

We walked up and down the hills of Galata…

Galata

…and the side streets of Istiklal…

Istiklal

…and caught our breath in mosques…

Sulimaniye Mosque

…and ignored the touts at the Grand Bazaar…

Grand Bazaar

…and wandered all the places in between.

Side street

We also enjoyed an long and incredibly relaxing Turkish bath – ladies and gentlemen separately and photography not allowed. Just imagine steamy, centuries-old rooms, with only a few shafts of light filtering in through small circular openings in the ceiling; hot marble slabs; mounds of bubbles; and unlimited bowls of hot and cold water to pour over your head. It was one of those rare places where the official advertising photos matched real life– as long as you swapped out the supermodels in tiny towels for large, topless bath attendants.

Sean and McKinze are great travel partners. They’re flexible and laid back, but also goal oriented planners. Whatever they suggested, we said “yes,” and we were always glad we did.

-A

30
Sep 2012
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Sakartvelo World Domination

International Folk Dance Competition

One night, we were wandering around Sultanahmet after dinner with Micah and Steph, some of our favorite fellow travelers we’ve met so far. (Go visit their blog, especially if you love great photography.) Some music caught our ear and we followed it to a stage where there was some sort of folk dance event.

We began to casually watch for a few minutes, and intended to start walking again, when a girl with silver medallions in her hair caught my eye. And then a boy with a black, shaggy headdress darted through the crowd. I managed to surpress a shriek of excitement, but still got a little bouncy and clap-happy. Micah and Steph were probably a little alarmed at my sudden enthusiasm. (If you know me well, you know that I don’t get genuinely giddy over very many things. Except maybe small, cuddly animals. And free food. And making Excel spreadsheets.)

Only a few weeks earlier, we were treated to a fantastic evening of Georgian folk dance in Akhaltsikhe. Could it be?? A whole troupe of Kartvelians in Istanbul? And we just happened to run into them??

Ukraine

I waited impatiently for the Ukranians and Romanians and Hungarians and other groups to complete their routines. They were all good, and entertaining even to those who might be less than enthusiastic about dance. Most teams were made up of adults or older teens. When the Georgians finally took the stage for the last performance for the evening, it was obvious that they were much younger than the other represented countries.

Georgian dance troupe

Since I don’t have much experience describing dance, here is what EasternArtists.com says about Georgian folk dancing:

“Georgian dance is generally characterized by the graceful floating gait of the female dancers. With bodies erect and leaning very slightly forward, the women create lovely formations and turns in an appearance that has been said to form the illusion of ice skating along the floor. The hand, arm and head movements are flowing and gentle while traveling in this quick floating manner.

The most characteristic element of the male Georgian dance is the acrobatic, or gymnastic movements including knee spins, aerial cartwheels, splits and kicks and many other such feats. But the most amazing to most viewers is the fast and varied manner of dancing on the knuckles of the toes. The dancers wear soft soled boots and often jump continually on the toe knuckle, with the body straight and strong, the arms in a very heroic posture, the men often shout or proudly stare as they do this spectacular feat.”

We weren’t surprised when the little soldiers and fair maidens floated and twirled and leaped and kicked with more skill, precision, vigor and heart than their predecessors. The crowd yelled and clapped more loudly for the Georgians than they had for anyone else, and you could see on the dancers’ faces that they were so happy and proud in that moment.

Dancers

The crowd started to filter away, and I noticed the white and red Georgian flag heading up the sidewalk, with the dancers all in a row behind it. I thought they were probably headed back to their hotel and was still so excited to have made another Georgia memory (in Istanbul!) that I decided it wouldn’t be too creepy to follow them. Our hostel was in the same direction, and we were headed that way, anyway.

Following the group

When we caught up to the group, I said hello to one of the girls. I told her how much I enjoyed their performance and asked if they were from Georgia. (Not the most brilliant of questions, but I was having a fangirl moment.) She said, yes, they were from Batumi, and that they had made the finals. Tomorrow night, they would dance again at the same stage. I promised that I would be there to see it.

Then I noticed that one of the chaperones kept glancing at us nervously. Walking a large group of children through a major world city late at night was probably not her idea of a good time, and me following them with a deranged smile wasn’t helping. Tony was very relieved when I agreed to turn around.

Gogo

The following evening, we returned to the park and the place was packed. Our Georgian team took the stage and repeated their great performance, and the crowd seemed to respond even more loudly. A man standing in the middle of the seating area kept standing up and waving the white flag with red crosses. The people behind him weren’t happy and eventually convinced him to at least sit down. But his flag kept waving.

Drummers

We stayed to see the results of the competition, and it was difficult to know what was going on since the emcee was speaking only in Turkish. Suddenly, I realized that there were a lot more Georgian children at the wings. It was another Georgian dance team. TWO teams had made it into the finals; one from Batumi and one from Tbilisi.

Final dance

The second team also brought the house down, and a section of the crowd was cheering, “SA-KART-VE-LO! SA-KART-VE-LO!” The man with the flag went nuts along with them.

Suspense

The emcee called the eight finalist teams to the stage. Some sort of local celebrity and a beauty queen joined him and they began handing out the awards. It was really apparent how young the Georgian teams were when they were standing with the other countries. In a fairytale moment, the two teams were awarded first and second place, and they all looked ready to burst with joy. I couldn’t help but be proud of them, too.

-A

Victory!

30
Sep 2012
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Istanbul: Pattern, Texture, Color

Karabatak Karaköy Cafe
Karabatak Karaköy Cafe

Cream rug
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Wood panel
Minbar detail, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Cream rug
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Navy rug pattern
Antique rug, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Tiny tiles on building exterior
Tiny tiles on building exterior, Galata

Wood panel with rose detail
Minbar detail, Türk-Islam Eserleri Müzesi

Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque

Blue Mosque perimeter ceiling
Perimeter ceiling, Blue Mosque

Old tile on Haydarpaşa ferry terminal
Haydarpaşa ferry terminal

Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya
Aya Sofya

27
Sep 2012
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Hoşgeldin, Ramazan

Turkish food

One night in Istanbul, we sat down to eat dinner. The tables were half full. We had a few questions for our waiter, and he responded in an extremely agitated manner, nearly shouting his suggestions at us. I was a little dismayed at this and forgot what I had originally wanted. I pointed to the words yoğurtlu kebab on the menu, even though I didn’t know what it was.

A large family arrived and the waiter, now in a frenzy, barked orders at the bus boy to push some tables together. More people arrived and the place was quickly full. The waiter continued to rush around, gesture wildly and alarm the other diners. Totally. Out. Of. His. Mind. We thought it was probably a bad decision to eat here and wondered if it was too late to bail.

Then I noticed that the big family had all been served their food, but were just sitting there staring at it. The flat screen t.v. on the wall (an unfortunate “necessity” in all but the swankiest of places) was displaying a countdown, and the children fidgeted as the numbers ticked away.

Then we remembered that Ramazan had begun the night before. (Ramadan is called Ramazan in Turkish and a few other languages.) We had gazed at the Blue Mosque’s special kandil lights that welcomed the season of Ramazan, sampled impossibly sweet pastries at a special artisans’ exhibition, and watched the crowds of families socializing at Sultanahmet Square.

Blue Mosque from the rooftop

Artisans' Market

Tulumba

Handmade kettle

Sugar coma

Mesir

The waiter’s behavior made total sense now. We imagined how calm we’d be if we hadn’t had even a drop of water since sunrise but still had to suffer the July heat, go to work, smell the food being prepared, and serve guests at one of the busiest times of the year.

The minaret across the street blared the sunset prayer, the countdown on the t.v. hit zero, and the family drew their hands down across their faces and began to enjoy their iftar. Our food arrived and the yoğurtlu kebap, a dish of grilled flat bread and chicken smothered in creamy yogurt and savory tomato sauce, became one of my favorite Turkish dishes. The waiter disappeared for a while, and when he returned, he was composed and smiling.

yoğurtlu kebap

-A

27
Sep 2012
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The Cats of Istanbul

You may have heard that Istanbul is home to a cat or three. Most of the cats that crossed our path through Turkey looked very… unfortunate.

Icky Kitty, Goreme

But the ones in Istanbul seem pretty healthy and manage to navigate the rooftops, alleys and crowded streets in their own self-assured way.

Tiger kitten
They’re skilled beggars at restaurants, and the waiters only half-heartedly shoo them away.

French fry feast

Aya Sofia nap kitty
1,500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site? Ideal nap spot.

Hostel cat

Mustachio Kitty
Alicia could hardly contain her excitement at discovering this little mustachioed friend outside of a Galata antique shop.

Inkstanbul kitty
One of Danny Garcia’s menagerie at Inkstanbul.

Cat house near Galata
Street cat comfort station, Galata.

Taksim kitten
Kitten near Taksim Square.

Orange tabby in Kadikoy
Kadıköy

Cat in window
Kadıköy

27
Sep 2012
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Truth In Travel Photography: Sometimes They’re Vacuuming the Mosque

Sometimes They're Vacuuming the Mosque

(Click to view larger)

Every now and then, we’ll post a single photo on this theme.

First up: Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul. 500 years old. Over 11,000 square feet of carpeting. All of which needs to be vacuumed. A lot.

22
Sep 2012
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A Day at Pamukkale

Sun beating down on the travertines

The crowds

We knew in advance that it was going to be packed and blazing hot. We knew that the actual travertines were now off-limits to protect them from millions of dirty footsteps. We knew that they places you can actually wade through were made from the springs being re-routed to concrete structures, which will look like their naturally-formed calcite counterparts in time, but are glaringly artificial for now.

Tony walking up the travertines

Alicia walking up the travertines

Smart tourists with umbrellas

We knew that while swimming around and banging our shins on the sunken ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo at the top, we’d be surrounded by a restaurant that pumps out dance beats and charges the equivalent of $3.50 for a can of Coke.

Tony floating in Cleopatra's pool

Cleopatra's pool

No swimming allowed

Tony in a pool

Tony laying in the water trench

But since we knew all these things, we set our expectations low and went in cheerfully, fully expecting to open our wallets and swelter as we climbed the hill with a horde of overworked Speedos to collectively worship at the Church of Mass Tourism. It was everything we expected to be… and we’re really glad we went. A Turkish man asked to take a picture with Tony, and then insisted on taking our photo while I wore his cowboy hat. It was a great day of people watching and splashing around one of the more unique places on the planet.

-A

Us

Pamukkale sunset

(Now take a few moments to walk down the travertines…)

22
Sep 2012
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Turkish Ice Cream – Dondurma

Fact – Turks love ice cream. Every McDonalds and Burger King that I saw in Turkey had dedicated little walk-up windows where the only thing you could order was soft serve ice cream. But really, I have no idea how fast food soft serve made its way into the country that invented dondurma.

Waffle cone maker in Egirdir

Our first experience with dondurma was at Lake Eğirdir. One night after dinner, we happened to walk by a guy on the sidewalk who was spooning batter into a waffle iron set up on a small folding table. This hipster was actually hand-rolling ice cream cones. So I was already sold on the cone before we even knew about the wonderful thing that is Turkish ice cream.

Dondurma boy in Antalya

So let me tell you about the wonderful thing that is Turkish Ice Cream. It’s made with goat milk, orchid flour, and mastic, which makes it thick and chewy. Sometimes it’s so thick that they just go ahead and eat it with a fork and knife. It’s usually seen on the streets being sold by a guy wearing a little vest and cap ensemble. The scoop is on the end of a long metal pole used to churn it like butter and pull it like taffy. Tourists will hear them hitting the little bells over-head and be enticed by the display, then get punked for a good five minutes while the guy in the vest serves them a cone on the end of the stick, then flips it upside down or pulls the ice cream back leaving an empty cone in your hand. Its fun for little kids. Big kids like Alicia sometimes just want their ice cream and refuse to play along.

Waffle cone maker in Eğirdir

But in Eğirdir there were no theatrics to delay your ice cream acquisition. Just two brothers, one sitting under a bug zapper and making cones on the sidewalk and the other in the shack with a scoop in his hand. Two lira for two scoops and a free dip in the chocolate sauce.

Dondruma

-Tony

22
Sep 2012
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