Monday, March 31, 2014

Welcome to Bodrum, the Turkish Riviera

Alright, you guys ready for a new city? Welcome to Bodrum! The flight from Istanbul to Bodrum just takes an hour and cost only $40 each. It was actually cheaper than our taxi to the airport. The moment you get off the place, you can tell things are different:
An hour long bus shuttle brings you to town. When we passed a loose donkey on the walk to our apartment.
Bodrum started out as a  sleepy fishing village and is now seen as the "Saint-Tropez of Turkey." There's a massive marina in the center of it with what looks like more sailboats than homes.  It is decidedly off-season right now, despite the weather being perfect in the low 70s. Sea captains are lounging at the union tea house and construction work is underway everywhere.

A few cafes are still open with tables on the beach for lunch.
This vintage scooter truck was zipping around taking down election banners.
There are lots of tiny whitewashed holiday apartments like ours around a pool. And some really beautiful stone summer homes with lush, wild gardens and bright gates.
There's still call to prayer five times a day, but it is quieter. I think I'm actually going to miss it when we go to Greece. The walk from town to our apartment takes a shortcut through the ruins of a 4th century Roman gate, complete with moat.
The main thing I like about Bodrum so far is how it smells: orange blossoms, roses, jacaranda, jasmine, geranium, salt water and a hint of diesel. It's so SPRING here, you almost expect lambs in blue satin bows to be popping around the corner.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

What to See, Eat and Wear for a Week in Istanbul in March

Now that we're off to a new city, let's recap Istanbul for future reference. I wasn't sure what to expect of this city and it took me a couple days to settle in to it. However, I left really loving the people and the spirit of Istanbul.
Where to Stay
We had an amazing little studio apartment just down the street from Galata Tower for about $60 a night. So centrally located, we walked from there all the way to the Bosphorus Bridge, Taskim Square, and Sultanahmet. Our street was a mix of hipster cafes and branding agencies on one side and wood carving studios on the other.
What to See
Here are my favorites, in order. The three day city museum pass does help with skipping lines and packing it all in:
1. Hagia Sophia was so much prettier in person than photos can explain.
2. Crossing the Bosphorys on ferry to explore the Asian continent in Kadikoy.
3. Taking a break from the bustle in the Basilica Cistern.
4. A different perspective at Istanbul's Modern Art Museum.
5. The Blue Mosque for a look at how people pray today
6. Topkapi Palace is full of treasures and beautiful Ottoman rooms, but can be SO crowded.
7. The extensive and lovely Archaeology Museum.
8. Istanbul's rainbow stairs.
9. The funky little free postal museum.
9. Taskim Square and the main shopping street. Interesting, but who needs to see another H&M.
10. Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. Worth walking through both buildings but the shopping there seems strictly tourist.
What to Eat
Food in Istanbul is largely simple and fresh. $1 gets you a warm sesame simit (bagel type bread) or a glass of fresh pomegranate juice or a sugary tea anywhere in the city. Doner kebaps, roasted on a vertical spit are everywhere. Get the extra garlic sauce to add some flavor. Grilled fish sandwiches are also ubiquitous, but don't taste of much more than mackerel. We ate good pide (pizza-like dishes with meat and cheese, no sauce) with homemade pickles at Hocapasa Pidecisi near the spice market. Massive stuffed baked potatoes over by the Bosphorus bridge were good too. Ciya Sofreasi, on the Asian continent, was definitely the best food in Istanbul for us. We cooked breakfast and dinner at home most days, so didn't try all that many places out.
What to Buy
The prospect of having to carry whatever I bought for eight more weeks was very effective in preventing me from shopping. However, I did do a fair amount of looking. I would skip the Grand Bazaar and instead cross over the Bosphorus to shop for rugs, spices and tea in Kadikoy. Near our apartment, I would also stop in to Hic, a beautiful boutique that features a modern take on local artists.

Pro Tip
If you see a shoe shine man drop his brush when he walks past you, just ignore it. It's a trick they use to get tourists to stop and talk to them and eventually charge for a very overpriced shoe polishing.

What to Wear
Like Paris, black is the color loved by locals. A good pair of flat boots that you can pair with thick leggings, jeans or dark tights is indispensable. Looser cuts, like a cashmere poncho or trench coat feel comfortable, less around the locals but more with other tourists in full burkas. We had moody weather while here with most days including some rain and some warm sunny hours. You'll need a scarf to go into mosques but can buy one easily anywhere. Umbrellas are sold on the street for $3 if you need one. I was disappointed to see a handful of Americans, all well old enough to know better, wearing bright college hoodies and running shoes. That doesn't even make sense to me since you could pack three nice sweaters in the space one hoodie would take up in your luggage.

I think that wraps it up. Istanbul was wonderful. Everyone should go!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Crossing to the Asian Continent in Istanbul, and an Amazing Moment of Hope

As much as I liked Istanbul, I don't think I really understood it until we crossed over the Bosphorus to explore the Asian side of the city. The ferry to Kadikoy costs $1.50 and takes about 20 minutes.

Normally, the ferry would drop you off at an open waterfront plaza, but yesterday it was packed with a political rally. CHP is the opposition party and hoping to win today's local election as a referendum against the policies (including blocking Twitter and YouTube) of the conservative Prime Minister.
Rob and I walked around the rally to the busy shopping streets. The Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet is lovely, but you can tell that this is where people actually shop and eat in Istanbul.
These are ropes of dried tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.
So many olives!
We wandered around for an hour and had a beer on one of the pub streets that looked almost german with carved wood and cobblestones. The political candidates' motorcade crossed the city surrounded by flags and supporters.
It was getting really cold and windy, so we stopped in for an early dinner at Ciya Kebap. This restaurant had a long profile in the New Yorker a few years ago for reviving Turkish home cooking. The article brings up that since the restaurants and street food in Istanbul are almost all run by men, a lot of the home-cooking recipes traditionally made by women are hard to find.  Really good meze (appetizer) spread followed by lamb in a pomegranate sauce with eggplant and lamb stuffed artichoke.
The rally was just starting to wrap up when we hopped on the ferry back to Beyoglu. The boat was full of supporters of all ages, everyone tired and cold. The tea service trays came around in silence. You can get a tulip glass of tea with saucer and everything for just $0.50 on the boats.

A three person band with a clarinet sat down. They started playing what sounded like klezmer-style folk songs to me. All those tired political supporters started clapping, singing, waving flags and crying along with the music. It was a beautiful moment of hope. Watch the video on my Instagram feed.

As we got off the ferry to walk home, I felt overwhelming love for this city with its cats and mosques, fish markets, narrow corridors and cobblestone streets.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Going Underground at the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

Since it was raining this morning, Rob and I decided to see the underground cisterns next to the Hagia Sophia. The Basilica Cistern was built in the 5th century to hold up to 100,000 tons of water. It is one of the hundreds of ancient cisterns under Istanbul.
Drained to just a few feet of clear water, with a walking platform added and spa-music piped in, the cisterns are a relaxing escape from the bustling city. It's a tourist trap, sure, but a nicely done one! At the back of the hall, there are two mysterious Roman Medusa head carvings holding up pillars. The best part was the fish swimming along in the clear water with us.

What to Wear: A Rainy March Day in Instanbul

Another day, another new outfit from my tiny carry-on bag. I brought along this flexible black Theory dress - with pockets! - to layer during the day and have as an option for any fancy nights out.  Here, it is paired with a lightweight J.Crew sweater in pale pink, belt, scarf, tights and flat boots. I should have an umbrella, but left it at home and was too stubborn to pay $2.50 for one from a street vendor.

This photo is outside the PTT postal service museum. A weird little three story museum celebrating Turkey's history of mail, telegrams and phone service. Since we work in communications and computers - it was right up our alley! The top floor's elegant painted salons are worth stopping in to see. You'll have to take my word for it since they don't allow any photography inside.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What to Wear: A Maxi Dress for March in Istanbul

Hat tip to long-time EmilyStyle insider, Katie, for the suggestion to pack a black maxi dress on this trip. This is one of my favorite outfits from the carry-on bag so far!
I wrapped a light chambray tuxedo blouse over the black maxi dress and belted it. Underneath, black tights for warmth and flat black boots. It was warm today, but I packed a light jacket and a scarf in case.  I thought the result was a little "Annie Oakley" with a splash of "Diane Keaton."

Istanbul's dress code is pretty relaxed. I've seen plenty of women in short dresses with tights (and wore that myself yesterday) but it does feel comfortable to be a little more covered up. when so many women are in hijab.

Yes, I am still obsessed with photographic tiles. These are from our visit to the really lovely Archeology Museums next to Topkapi Palace.

Only a couple more days in Istanbul ahead and then we're headed to the coast to stay in Bodrum for a week and on to Greece.

The Hagia Sophia: A 1,475 year-old church and a cross-eyed celebrity cat

Rob and I went to the Hagia Sophia this morning. A massive and so  It's hard to think of the right word for a Greek Orthodox basilica founded in 532 that was then turned into a mosque and that is now a museum.  Regardless, the Hagia Sophia is my favorite thing we've seen in Istanbul so far.
The Hagia Sophia is an important example of religious art and architecture from the last 1,500 years. The original marble, carvings and mosaics were layered over with plaster and Islamic patterns when it was converted to a mosque.
They're still uncovering some of the original gold mosaics.
About 10 stories up, there's a balcony that you can explore to overlook the whole scene.
I love the mustard, gold, black and blue color scheme....which I'm just realizing I coincidentally was wearing when I went to the Hagia Sophia. That worked out!
We even managed to meet Gli, the cross-eyed cat who lives at the Hagia Sophia and has become an internet celebrity. As you can see here, I was really excited about the sighting!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ottoman Textures of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace

No descriptions here, just a few favorite photos from among the dozens I took at Topkapi Palace today. No matter where you looked up at the Palace, there was some kind of ornately painted, tiled, carved and/or gilded decoration. Most of these are from the private apartments of the Sultan and his harem.

Visiting the Ottoman Empire at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

Today's adventure: Topkapi Palace, the largest and oldest palace in the world, where the Ottoman Empire's Sultans lived for over 400 years. First, we had to walk through our cute hipster Galata Tower neighborhood...
....across the bustling waterfront and through the spice market.
The crowds at Topkapi were massive, even this early in the morning on a Wednesday in March. Pretty beds of hyacinth and tulips all across the palace grounds.
In the gallery section of the palace we got stuck between an incredibly potent tourist combination of pushy Chinese ladies in visors and packs of shouting 10 year old Turkish school boys who insisted on touching everything. Thankfully, we were about a foot and a half taller than both groups and managed to see swords, pieces of Mohammed's beard and the famous 86-carat diamond above the crowds. Those poor teachers! Rob and I escaped to lunch at the elegant palace cafeteria. We sat in an enclosed glass room on the terrace watching the ferries and freighters busily zip across the Bosphorus.
Recharged from lunch, we toured the palace gardens and the ourdoor lounges. My obsession with photographing tiles and painted dome ceilings began.
The obsession got much worse when we entered the super lovely harem quarters. Next time, I would go straight here and maybe skip the galleries.
I've put up a second post with more of my tile and mural photos, there are a lot. After the palace, Rob was melting with congestion from his cold. We walked back home through the lovely gardens outside the palace. There are so few parks in Istanbul and this one really stands out with it's groomed flower beds.
Thanks to the rain yesterday, we had a clear view of our Galata neighborhood on the walk back.