Get ready for a sappy post.

You’ve been warned.

It is with both sadness and excitement that I write this post görüşürüz or “see you later.”  It is my final day in Istanbul.  I have lived in a tiny room overlooking the Black Sea for exactly one month.  Every day I awoke to a fantastic group of people.  Through attempting to navigate Turkish public transportation, exploring the markets at Kadıköy, and eating way too much cake at Bilir we grew extremely close.  I have met some truly incredible people that will be friends for life.  Aside from the memories and the promises to correspond, my Turkish has improved significantly and I was able to explore Turkey beginning as a tourist and ending as a local.

Last night we gathered at a restaurant in Şile where glass windows exposed the most beautiful view of the Ottoman lighthouse.  We ate calamari (still better in Seattle!), drank red wine, and laughed about who knows what.  As a food historian I recognize that food brings people together, and for the last month I’ve sat across the table from these incredible people and learned not only about Turkey but about their cultures as well.




Mia is so lovely and brilliant, I am going to miss her so much!

Today we explored Istanbul for the last time this trip, although everyone has vowed to return.  Our first tour was guided by an professor who specializes in Ottoman sociology.  Instead of leading us around throngs of people flocking to the mosques we took some back alleys to explore the transformation of Ottoman architecture in the 18th to 19th centuries.  Our first stop was a mall (we think he said mall? it functioned more like an inn) which had a remarkable view of the city.  We wound through dank corridors where craftsmen used to sell their work and climbed onto the roof for this gorgeous view.  Does it look familiar?  This is also where they filmed the scene of Bond running on the rooftops in From Russia with Love.





this door is older than the Unites States

After viewing the city from a building of questionable structural integrity we walked back through the markets to some buildings that exemplify Ottoman Revivalism.  As you walk along the streets you can look up and see ordinary buildings with Iznik tiles decorating the under side of roofs.  This is perhaps my favorite part of Istanbul.  The Ottomans were patrons of the arts and decorated every inch of their building so that you can always find something new, even in a post office.



this post office was built in 1909. the symmetry shows modernity whereas the tiles and basilica shape speak to the Ottoman era. similar to the mosque, the immense size of the interior is meant to show the authority of the government rather than the prestige of Allah


the legacy Ottoman hotel



this is my absolute favorite mosque in Istanbul, this is the fourth time I’ve visited it this trip!



can you spot the Iznik tiles?



view from the restaurant

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that overlooked the Bosporus and the Galata tower.  After eating I quickly ran through the market to grab some last minute spices.  Cross your fingers they will get through customs!  After this our professor who gave a lecture on “Istanbul in Movies” led us on a tour of the Bosporus.  It was a three hour tour that perfectly summed up our program.  We had an uninterrupted view of the mosques, palaces, and castles belonging to empires from the Byzantines to Ataturk’s Turkish Republic.  My favorite thing about being on the Bosporus is that the skyline has remained virtually unchanged since Ottoman times.  This means that attackers and merchants alike sailed up to this exact view.  Can you image how awe-inspiring and menacing it was?


I would like to make a small aside here.  As we got on the ferry a large crowd filed out of the mosque and began rallying with Palestinian flags.  We waited on the ferry for about 45 minutes and watched the flags waving and listened to the chanting.  It was a remarkable sight.  It was refreshing to see Turks taking an interest in foreign issues and feeling a kinship with Palestinians when this has not always been the case.  I have been reading up on the tragedies in Palestine and it feels more real being geographically closer.  I really do think that if enough countries hold protests such as these we can demand change and make progress.  This picture is also very special because protesting is illegal in Turkey, so these people were ready to face tear gas and rubber bullets in the name of peace.

Now back to the cruise!




my darling Froso who is from Greece.  she wants to get her PhD in Ottoman history as well, so we always have a lot to discuss!  We decided to say “see you soon” instead of “goodbye” and meet again in Istanbul



you could say the trip was a little windy

Unfortunately I do not know much about the ensuing pictures.  Mia and I had such a wonderful time sitting near the edge of the boat taking in the sights that we didn’t hear the professor!  I think we had more fun this way, but that means I’m going to show you a whole bunch of castles that I don’t have the names for.




one of Ataturk’s palaces that we passed



the most whimsical mosque built for an Ottoman princess


we cruised under quite a few bridges





the least expensive house on the Bosporus goes for 10 million lira (roughly 5 million dollars) which is quite a lot considering the average Turkish salary is $12,000 American dollars


the magnificent Ottoman castle. there are two on either side of the Bosporus and they were used to throw cannon balls at ships trying to invade Istanbul


seeing as this is also a food blog I should probably include something edible.  Mia and I shared this chocolate on our Bosporus cruise date but by the time we opened it the chocolate was completely melted!  Mia said she never thought she would be cruising the Bosporus pulling apart melted chocolate with a girl from Seattle. I said we would return together and do the exact same thing again!

I apologize for the short post and the lack of Byzantine princess jokes.  I need to wake up in three hours to catch my flight back home and I don’t have time to write more.  I wanted to thank all of you: friends, family, and people who follow this blog around the world, for taking the time to experience this with me.  Writing the blog was therapeutic for me when I was homesick and it was a great way for me to educate people about Turkey.  The blog won’t be receiving new posts until I return to Turkey, which will hopefully be soon.  Until then: afiyet olsun!




10 Ingredients Found in Turkish Cuisine

Turkish cuisine is a blend of savory, succulent, sugar-coated goodness.  Due to Turkey’s location between Eastern and Western powers Istanbul is a confluence of civilizations culturally, linguistically, and gastronomically.  Think of your favorite ethnic foods.  Greek food is defined by rich cheeses, olives, and marinated meats.  Travel further south to Egypt where you’ll indulge in garlicky hummus and falefel wrapped in warm pita.  Turkey draws from all of these traditions while contributing its own edible creations.  After eating incredible food every day for the past month I wanted to put together a list of the 10 ingredients most commonly found in Turkish cooking.  Read along and grab a napkin in case you start drooling.

1. Cinnamon (tarçın)

When I first told my brother that I was going to be living in Turkey he smiled and said “sis, you have to promise to bring back some cinnamon.”  When our family traveled to Turkey five years ago we wandered aimlessly through the spice market in awe of the mounds of spices unknown to our taste buds.  In an attempt to sample the local flavors we purchased a bag of cinnamon.  When we arrived home I whipped up a batch of cupcakes with a dash of Turkish cinnamon in the batter.  My family and I felt like we had been introduced to a whole new spice.  And we had been.  The cinnamon sold in the United States is called ceylon and is extracted from the shoots of the plant prior to maturity.  Turkish cinnamon, which is called cassia, is made by grinding the cinnamon bark.  Cassia cinnamon is rich and aromatic compared to drab ceylon.

Being a food historian I’ve delved into the history of these ingredients to give you a more robust read.  In the Middle Ages the Arabs had a monopoly on cinnamon which made it extremely expensive.  Those in the upper class sought luxurious goods that would complement their social rank.  These individuals imported spices such as cinnamon to showcase on their tables.  In order to boost prices Arab merchants teased consumers with outlandish tales about the origins of their cinnamon.  Herodotus (the first historian) wrote that huge birds transported cinnamon sticks to their nests which were located on a mountain so high it could not be climbed by humans.  The merchants supposedly lured the birds down with ox meat and when they approached the birds would drop their cinnamon sticks.  Fortunately, cinnamon is not found atop a rocky outcrop inhabited by pterodactyl-like creatures.  Today cassia cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka and exported to Turkey.  Cinnamon is most commonly used on Turkish salep, a winter drink made with hot, frothy milk and sweetened with orange, rosewater, and cinnamon.  Salep is generally a winter drink but I was able to taste some tonight in a bakery and it was divine.  I had Mia and Aisha try it as well because I found the taste difficult to describe.  The closest description we got was “warm milkshake” but I would say a milkshake is far sweeter than this drink.  It tastes like a white hot chocolate with hints of orange and rose.

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salep with milk, orange, rosewater, and cinnamon




cinnamon sweets


2. Clotted cream (kaymak)

Hands down kaymak is my favorite Turkish food.  It reminds me of sitting with my mother at a cafe in London, spreading clotted cream and jam on a piping hot scone.  But make no mistake, kaymak is not English clotted cream.  Although clotted cream is an English invention kaymak has found its own place on the Turkish breakfast table.  Turkish clotted cream is made with domesticated water buffalo milk.  That’s right.  Some guy has a farm of water buffalo bred specifically to produce this stuff.  The specific buffalo that make the cream are called manda in Turkish.  I have a special spot in my heart for water buffalo so it’s no wonder I could live off of kaymak.

I’ve found that it’s extremely difficult to explain clotted cream to someone that has never tried it.  Kaymak is similar to milk but less of a liquid, and somewhat like whip cream but more solid and sweeter.  Think sweet, whipped butter.  Kaymak is made by boiling buffalo milk and then simmering it over low heat for many hours.  Once cream starts to form it is skimmed off the top and refrigerated.  The cream ferments slightly to give it a sour taste.  The cream keeps for a mere day so it must be consumed immediately.  Did I mention kaymak is 60% fat?  Yeah, it’s heavenly.  Kaymak is always served in a traditional Turkish breakfast and is best paired with sour cherry jam and honey on fresh Turkish pastry.  There is also a dessert called ekmek kadayıfı which is a cake with layers of clotted cream.  I still need to try that one!

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3. Feta

This is where Istanbul’s Greek roots come into play.  Cheese is a Turkish staple but the only kinds I have been exposed to are mozzarella, goat cheese, and feta.  Feta cheese is served at every meal and accompanies nearly every dish.  Ordering kebap at a restaurant?  Feta.  Chicken wrap?  Feta.  Side of fries?  Feta.  The feta here is more creamy than crumbly and is made from sheep’s milk.  I love taking a wedge and putting it on a tomato or cucumber in the morning.

According to Homer, Polyphemus was the first to make feta cheese.  If you’ve read the Odyssey you’ll recall that Polyphemus was a cyclops who also herded sheep.  He stored milk in sheep’s skin but he left the milk in the bag for too long and when he looked inside the milk was curdled.  Although the history of feta is obscure this is actually the leading theory for the origins of cheese and yoghurt.  Storing milk in animal hides allows the liquid to interact with bacteria in the stomach lining to transform it into something new.  The Turks still employ this tactic today when making cheese.  On the streets you can spot large animal hides that house cheese in the making.  The first written record of feta cheese comes from the Byzantine Empire, so it may have origins in modern day Turkey rather than in Greece.  However, the word feta comes from the Italian fette “to slice”.  Regardless of where feta originated, you can’t beat a thick slice of cheese on a seasoned tomato wedge.




feta always accompanies a Turkish breakfast


they’re making cheese in there!

4. Tomatoes (domates)

I have never been a fan of tomatoes. I’ve grown them in our garden, I’ve sauteed them with, piled them on noodles, thrown them on salads.  I cannot get into tomatoes.  This changed when I came to Turkey.  The tomatoes are so large you need to use both hands to hold one.  They are also a deep red color all the way to the core and there is less gooey jelly inside.  All meals in Turkey come with a sliced tomato on the side along with a wedge of feta.  Sometimes the tomatoes are grilled but they are usually raw.  These tomatoes are rich and sun ripened and they go well with every Turkish chicken dish that I’ve tried.  I may now be on team tomato.

Tomatoes only appeared in Turkish cuisine in the late 1800s.  However, they have quickly found a home nestled into kebap and tantuni.   Red tomatoes are almost always be found on the table whereas green tomatoes are used for pickling.  The Turks use tomatoes in soups, salads, and delicious sauces.  I wrote about this earlier, but there is a famous Turkish saying that happiness is “a dish cooked in tomato paste by a woman with big hips”!  The spice market is full of mounds of tomato paste and I wish I could take a whole bucket through customs!


there are always sliced tomatoes

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there are tomatoes in all four of these dishes

5. Pistachio (antep fıstığı)

Pistachio may be the most Turkish of all the ingredients on this list.  Pistachios are native to the Middle East and archaeological evidence suggests that they were eaten in Turkey in 7000 BCE.  Muslim legend claims that pistachios were brought to earth by Adam from the Garden of Eden.  I think it’s safe to say the Turks take their pistachios very seriously.  Pistachios have been used medicinally for toothaches and liver problems.  Like trail mix today, pistachios were a common food eaten by travelers because they have a long shelf life and are easily transported.  And did you know?  Pistachios are not nuts!  They are actually seeds that look like nuts.

Pistachios adorn most Turkish desserts.  They are commonly sprinkled on top of baklava, cakes, and pudding.  Pistachios are also the key ingredient in katmer, which is essentially a fried baklava.  Clotted cream and pistachios are wrapped in philo dough, fried, and topped with butter and more pistachios.  I’m not sure how I’ll ever be able to eat American food again.



pistachio cake



pistachio ice cream sprinkled with pistachio




pistachio on all the desserts

6. Rosewater (gülsuyu)

When you eat something with rosewater the word “exquisite” comes to mind.  Rosewater is the delicate, sweet kiss at the end of a Turkish delight that makes you feel like a Byzantine princess.  (Note: this is a terrible analogy, Byzantine princesses were married off as child brides or exiled to remote islands.  Eat rosewater-flavored foods but don’t become a Byzantine princess.)  Rosewater is made from the process of distilling rose petals.  Rosewater is downright romantic.  It gives sweets a subtle hint of rose and the taste gets stronger with each bite.  Rosewater livens up dairy dishes like yoghurt and milk as well as desserts such as rice pudding and cakes.  Putting a hint of rosewater in a dish gives it an extra dimension that is both elegant and fragrant.

7. Sesame Seeds (susam)

The word sesame comes from the Arabic simsim and was widely used by Muslim empires.  The Assyrians had a myth that the gods had drank sesame wine before they created the earth.  The Egyptians ground sesame seeds to use as four and in 5000 BCE people in China burned sesame oil to make soot for ink blocks.  Sesame was believed to have mystical powers as evidence from the expression “open sesame” in the Arabian Nights.

In Turkey sesame is generally used as a garnish on breads.  Simit is traditionally coated in sesame seeds as are croissants and sandwich breads.  Whenever I eat a simit my lap is completely covered in sesame seeds!  There is no proper way to eat these things.  Turks also enjoy tahini, the paste in hummus, which is made of crushed sesame seeds.  (Note: hummus is not Turkish and cannot be found in Turkey.)


8. Mastic 

As we hiked down a steep, uneven cobblestone road in Assos I stopped part-way down to catch my breath and noticed a conveniently located coffee shop.  I sat down with our program director and one of our professors and they ordered Turkish kahve with mastic.  In Assos, a few hundred kilometers South of Istanbul, mastic flavoring is very popular.  Mastic is a resin that comes from an evergreen tree that grows on one Greek island called Chios.  Mastic has a slippery texture and tastes like a mix of olive oil and mint.  Mastic makes Turkish coffee go down smoother and it softens the taste of the bitter coffee granules.  Because it is so refreshing mastic has been renowned for its ability to reduce plaque.  The resin was popular among women in the Ottoman harem because it gave them fresh breath and white teeth to impress the Sultan.  About half the Turkish coffee shops I have visited offer coffee with mastic but it is also common in ice cream, pudding, and Turkish delight.



from the top: mastic, sour cherry, pistachio

 9. Pomegranate (nar)

Pomegranate is perhaps the most popular Middle Eastern fruit.  Native to Iran, pomegranate has been eaten in this region since 3000 BCE.  Pomegranates are also said to have been the favorite fruit of Muhammad, which only serves to increase their popularity.  Even King Tut was buried with pomegranates in order to ensure his passage into the afterlife.  And you know if King Tut was into pomegranates they must be something special.  The Ottomans used pomegranates as a stand in for lemons.  Like the pistachio, pomegranates are used as embellishment on Turkish desserts.  I’ve mainly eaten them scattered over pastries.  I’ve also heard from many Turks that pomegranate jam is the most heavenly thing on this planet.  Every time I to into the city I find a jam shop, pop in, and ask nar?  But the answer is always no.  One day I will find this allusive pomegranate jam!

10. Sour cherries (vişne)

I had never eaten sour cherries until I came to Istanbul.  Sour cherries are different from regular cherries and they’re sold side by side in open air markets.  Sour cherries are smaller and a darker red color and, as their name suggests, are tart compared to normal cherries.  Their season is from June to August which means we currently have access to the best sour cherries.  Turks are so enamored with this fruit that they preserve it and make jam so they can eat sour cherries year round.  On campus we drink sour cherry juice everyday.  Sour cherries are also used in rice dishes and in stews.  The Turks aren’t afraid to mix their sweet and savory.






Şile’de Gidiyoruz

As we start to wind down the trip and pack our luggage there has been a significant shortage of things to blog about.  We haven’t been able to venture into Istanbul so for the past few days Rebecca and Mia and I have further explored Şile.  That’s why this post is titled “Şile’de gidiyoruz” or “we are going to Şile.”  That’s also because I’m excited about being able to form sentences in Turkish!

If you’re new to the blog, we are living at Işık University which is near the town of Şile.  Although Şile is technically in Istanbul it is over an hour away from the city center.  As you drive into Istanbul the landscape is dotted with apartments.  There are multiple construction sites for shopping malls which are literally right next to each other.  Istanbul is a chaotic symphony of Turkish chatter, car horns, and the call to prayer.  The journey from Istanbul to Şile feels like you are traversing space and time.  Şile’s residents live in tiny bungalows on the Black Sea.  The beaches fulfill the cliche of white sand and turquoise waters (which is interesting because turquoise is French for “color of the Turks”).  In Şile everyone is on island time.

Every trip into Şile requires a stop at Mado.  I realize how cruel I am to go on about this ice cream when you haven’t tried any!  Mado is made of goat’s milk and crushed orchid roots, which I learned is a fairly common ingredient in Turkish food.  The dondurma (ice cream) is much denser than normal ice cream to the point that you need to cut it with a knife in order to eat it!  Luckily the cartons had been baking in the sun all afternoon so when they scooped the Mado onto cones sticky goodness starts to drip down your arm.  So far I’ve tried chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, and something like almond.  None of us were really sure about ice cream names in Turkish so we just pointed, saying “bu”, and took our chances.  Luckily everything at Mado is divine.  Rebecca had orange and what we believe was chestnut while Mia ate a mixture of orange and sour cherry.  Sour cherry flavored everything is huge in Turkey, almost as big as pistachios.  Each morning warm bread is served with sour cherry jam that has actual cherries inside.  When you go to the market cherries and sour cherries are separately labeled.  Sour cherries, which are a deep burgundy color, are smaller and more tart than normal cherries.  I don’t think we have anything like this in the states.




I had a mixture of chocolate and almond.  Mado really likes to put flat pieces of ice cream on a cone rather than scoop it into balls


me, Mia (England), and Rebecca (Canada) with our dondurma

The best part about Şile is the beach.  If you know me you know I’m not a huge beach person.  However, it’s refreshing to get off campus, eat ice cream with these wonderful ladies, and lay in the sun while studying Turkish.  (Side note: since Mia and Rebecca already speak Turkish they make me do all the ordering and then make fun of me for asking horribly phrased questions about ice cream).  There’s also an Ottoman lighthouse to gaze at while at the beach which means it’s the most historical beach I’ve been to after Gallipoli!  After the beach we always eat in town because a few people have gotten food poisoning from the food served on campus.  Besides, eating cake at Bilir will always trump chickpeas and rice.


pistachio cake


some delicious concoction of strawberries (the only ones I’ve found after 4 weeks in Istanbul!)  they drew us some flowers and the Ottoman lighthouse because we spoke Turkish to them



aside from the cakes Bilir has a gorgeous view (Ottoman lighthouse far right) and the friendliest people

Rebecca and I thought the beach in this part of Şile was nice until today when we ventured beyond the town center to Aquabeach.  We took a cab after Turkish class and immediately wished we had discovered this spot a month ago.  It is much cleaner than the regular beach, the water is clearer, there are fewer people, and there’s a restaurant right on the water.  Rebecca pointed out that this was the first time she felt like she’s been on vacation since we arrived in Turkey.  I agreed!


the view from the restaurant at Aquabeach


Rebecca ordered this gorgeous Turkish breakfast. I want to be a Turk so I can eat like this every morning


…and this is what happens when you order an omelette in Turkey. apparently the Turks don’t know how to make anything at this hour besides Turkish breakfast

Aquabeach is located in a little cove surrounded by cliffs and rock formations.  It was about 90 degrees but there was a steady wind which helped cool us down.  After laying on the beach and studying Turkish we walked along the water to one of the rock formations.  There are caves inside but we weren’t too sure about scaling the rock face to get to them.  After exploring the beach we bravely decided to go swimming.  The sea is so warm!  I would like to point out that this area is free of rip tides so we were safe.  The entire swimming area is fenced off and you can always touch the bottom.  We floated on the water and tried (and failed) to bodysurf the five foot waves.  When we found an aquatic caterpillar-like creature stuck to Rebecca’s swim suit we quickly ran to shore!



panoramas of the beach



the waves were quite violent at times


of course they sell simit on the beach


Rebecca and I had a lovely time spending five hours on the beach!  My sunburnt nose is proof.  Since we are terrified to eat on campus Rebecca asked the taksi driver to take us to a market where we could buy food to sustain us for the next four days.  Remember what I said about there being no grocery stores in Turkey?  These convenience stores mainly sell produce and dairy products, but yoghurt and apricots are a welcome change.  I love the packaging and the Turkish writing so I took a photo.


bananas, dried figs, and a bottle of milk which says günlük taze süt or “daily fresh milk”. see, eating is a great way to learn Turkish!

In other news, I finally have the link to the interview!  A few weeks ago I was interviewed on national Turkish television about the program we are doing here.  If you’re curious here is the link!  The entire thing is in Turkish so if you want to skip to our part it starts at 6:25.






I almost didn’t write a post for today  It was quite a lovely day spent with two remarkable ladies, but we didn’t journey to Troy or ride a horse drawn carriage to a hilltop monastery.  Instead, we ate cake.  That is literally all we did today.  I could have called the post “cake” but this translates to pasta in Turkish, and that’s just confusing.  So the post is called “dessert” instead.

Every shop on the main road of Şile is uniform.  It either sells pide (Turkish pizza), kitchy magnets, or baggy cotton clothing.  I adore Şile but there is very little variety.  Last weak when I found Bilir, a cozy bakery perched above the Black Sea, I was smitten.  I only had time to grab cookies for a picnic but I vowed to return and sample their repertoire of sweets.  Today Mia, Aisha, and I took the shuttle into Şile to eat lunch at Bilir which lasted 3 hours and consisted 90% of pasta (the kind that you put frosting on).


I love this view and the potted plants on the window sill. bilir has the most modern architecture of all the restaurants in Şile 


the walls of the restaurant have little niches filled with model cars and old clocks

The entrance to Bilir is lined with pastry cases.  Today the bakers were putting the finishing touches on rows of strawberry cakes.  The cakes here are small and made for one or two people to share.  There must be at least fifty different types of cake.  Some are made of pistachios, others dipped in molten chocolate, and one is crowned with ferrero rochers.  Not only are these cakes deliciously diverse, they are almost too cheap too comprehend.  An entire cake sells between 5 and 10 lira ($2.50 – $5).  How is that possible?!  I’d pay $25 for this stuff at Whole Foods and it wouldn’t be nearly as good!


we did eat some real food beforehand. as I mentioned in the last post, this is what the Turks eat. it’s Westernized Turkish food which tastes better than it looks.  they pack these wraps full of fresh ingredients and spices

Now to the cakes.  I have been practicing how to order cake for this very occasion.  If you want to get the waiter’s attention you say bakarsiniz which literally means “look at me”.  It’s more polite than yelling garson!  Cake is pasta, we already went over that.  Chocolate is çikolata and strawberry is çilek.  The cake I wanted is called prences and what does that sound like?  Yes, a Princess!  Prences has layers of çikolata with çilek in between.  So I said, bakarsiniz, çikolatalı pasta istiyorum!  Turkish is starting to come easier to me and this time it ends in a sweet reward.  Note: if you say bekarsiniz instead of bakarsiniz you are asking if someone is single.  Don’t make that mistake in Turkey!


Prences pasta


I ate this entire thing by myself and I don’t even care



Aisha had the opera cake. it’s hard to tell but this is about three times larger than a normal slice of cake

The waiters also brought us free eclairs dusted in pistachio and lemonade. I asked Mia what these round things were in the lemonade and she said to me “you have a food blog, how is it that you can’t identify a grape?!”


After we got back to campus I sat outside on my picnic blanket ready to devour a history book and sunbath and within ten minutes the sun was gone and I was completely drenched.  It looks like we left Şile just in time for the next storm to roll in.  It’s currently thundering but the weather should cooperate for Istanbul tomorrow!





I have never experienced so much sunshine over such a long period of time.  Each day I wake to a cloudless sky and a view of the Black Sea.  Once I’ve walked to class the temperature is about ninety degrees.  It’s intensely humid but most of the buildings have air conditioning.  Over the past few days it has even hit 100 degrees which has made walking up hills all the more interesting.  Now that I’ve given you an idea of Şile’s typical weather you can imagine how shocked I was to wake at six in the morning to the loudest thunder I have ever heard.  It shook the building and echoed over the Black Sea.  I waited under the covers for Godzilla to shriek!  When I peered out the window it was like looking at a blank wall.  There was so much rain I couldn’t make out the sea, the town, or the tree right in front of the window.  I’m fairly certain this qualifies as monsoon weather.  No power, no internet, nothing to do.

This is my first weekend staying on the campus rather than taking an overnight trip to another part of Turkey.  If you know me you know I don’t take relaxation or boredom very well.  Despite the weather Mia and I took a bus into Kadıköy, which is my favorite part of the city.  It is located on the Anatolian side where we spent the majority of the food tour.  Kadıköy is filled with markets and coffeehouses and many locals to practice Turkish with.  This is also where the majority of Istanbul’s residents work and live, so it feels authentic.

The university shuttle droped us off at the ferry station which is dotted with simit carts.  Mia and I were too famished to walk to the market so I ordered a few while Mia helped some other students navigate Istanbul’s ferry system.  Simit is by far my favorite Turkish food and it will be hard to part with it when I leave Istanbul!  To give you an idea, I ate four simit today.  In fact, that was the majority of what I ate. I have no regrets.  Every morning I grab two, run them through the toaster, and dip them in Turkish honey and sour cherry jam.  When paired with a cup of çay you feel like you can do just about anything.  Simit Seni seviyorum.


iki simit lütfen!


Mia is very excited to eat breakfast at 1 pm


During the food tour two weeks ago we entered the markets in Kadıköy and I saw something glorious.  Fazıl Bey Kahve.  Months ago I found this shop on a website that claimed Fazıl Bey was one of only five places to drink authentic Turkish coffee in Istanbul.  I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Fazıl Bey but the university shuttles are erratic and taxis are expensive, so I figured I would never make it.  When we passed by on the food tour my hope was renewed but I couldn’t stray from the group and I had consumed about three days worth of food, there was no room for coffee.  Today I remembered where Fazıl Bey Kahve was and Mia was nice enough to accompany me.




I couldn’t tell you why Fazıl Bey is authentic coffee.  In fact, I’m fairly sure the stands on the street sell better coffee than this place.  That doesn’t mean we didn’t have fun, though.  The coffee beans are imported from Brazil and when Mia explained that I am a coffee historian the people working there gave us some of the roasted beans to eat raw.  They were very potent!  They briefly explained how they grind the beans into a fine powder so that it can be added to the coffee rather than filtered through.  While we waited for the coffee Mia and I talked about the activities within the Ottoman coffeehouse such as storytelling, poetry reading, and backgammon.  It almost felt like we were in the Ottoman coffeehouse discussing scholarly topics.




Mia asked about the coffee cup reading and one of the men working there perked up.  He said he had a little experience reading coffee cups.  This is not an Ottoman tradition but it is fairly common in Turkey today.  Once the Turkish coffee is consumed a pile of sediment remains at the bottom.  You flip the cup over onto the dish and wait for the sediment to run down it and dry.  After this an experienced fortune teller reads your fortune.  Fortune telling is huge in Turkey and the Turks take it very seriously.  Many people see a fortune teller once or twice each month and pay 100 lira ($50) for five minutes!  But Turkish coffee reading is very light and fun compared to those fortune tellers.


When you look inside the cup you will see two very faint drip marks.  The man told me that I will be faced with a situation that has two possible outcomes.  I will choose the hard path and hold a mistake in my heart (Mia was translating and this is literally what he said, a mistake, we were thinking it was regret).  I will choose the right path and it will be beautiful in the end but the journey will be difficult.  This eerily relates to something Mia and I discussed on the bus about graduate school and it really got me thinking for the rest of the day.  The man then took the dish, where some of the sediment collected, and tipped it so that it was perpendicular to the ground.  Again, two streams of coffee rolled down the dish to reinforce his reading.  When he turned the dish again the drips did not go past the lip, which means the outcome will be favorable.  Obviously fortune telling is all for fun, but I thought it was fascinating!

Unfortunately our final few minutes in Fazıl Bey left a bitter taste in our mouth (no pun intended).  We went to pay from another man and he realized we were English and America.  He told us that he wanted to show us something and we were excited that it might be coffee related.  He grabbed his phone and pulled up pictures of mortally wounded Palestinians and started berating us in Turkish.  Honest to god yelling at us.   I understood from his body language what he was on about and Mia starting yelling back trying to defend us.  He was infuriated because our countries weren’t going anything to stop the bombings.  He said it was our fault personally.  Mia explained that we were just people that didn’t represent an entire government and that we didn’t necessarily agree with what our governments were doing.  Then he kicked us out.  We were absolutely furious.  Here we were having a delightful cup of coffee and it was ruined by horrendous pictures and yelling.  It took an hour or so for the effects of the encounter to wear off.  I would like to point out that these encounters are extremely rare and do not represent Turks as a whole.  Mia has been to Turkey twenty times (no exaggeration) and this is only the second time anything like this has happened to her.


after our incident I told Mia, “why did we even try Fazıl Bey when this is obviously the best coffee shop in Istanbul?!”

With no plans for the rest of the day we simply walked around the market.  I used cafes that we visited on the food tour as reference points so we wouldn’t get lost.  We noticed that different streets on the market are reserved for specific things like clothes, fruits and vegetables, and pubs.  Down one of the side streets we stumbled upon a bookstore.  I love Turkish bookstores because I can stock up on complicated books that I will one day be able to read.  We were pouring over the novels and all of a sudden Mia pointed out an old box filled with Ottoman writings.   Genuine, original papers from the Ottoman Empire.  This may have been the most exciting moment of the trip for me.  I spent far too long flipping through the delicate papers.  Some of them were a single page, others loosely bound books, and even some newspapers, all written in Ottoman Turkish.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own something that had been created by the hands of an Ottoman.  I can read a few words on each page because they are the same in Arabic but when I start learning Ottoman Turkish I will use these as a reference.


the sign says “in the box Ottoman books and magazines” for only $5!  the newspaper I bought was pricier but worth it


all of these are Ottoman, there must have been at least 50 newspapers and books


the bookstore also had old Ottoman photographs

We spent the majority of the afternoon and evening in a cafe.  Our table was right by a huge open window which provided a view of the market streets.  While sipping ayran Mia and I conversed for hours.  She is so easy to talk to and she is interested in everything.  She also enjoys listening to me rant about the Ottomans, which is an impressive quality!  We also spent this timing reviewing Turkish grammar and afterward I taught Mia the Arabic alphabet.  We wanted some authentic Turkish food but when it arrived it looked very American!  I pointed this out to Mia and she suggested that this is Turkish food because the Turks really don’t eat anything authentic anymore.  It is sad but true!  Tomorrow we are planning to visit some Ottoman ruins and drink more çay regardless of the storm.


the new “authentic” Turkish food, a chicken wrap and some fries

The Princess Islands

Today we took a welcomed break from Turkish class to visit the Princess Islands.  Locals call the islands Adalar (Turkish for island) because they are the only islands within the city of Istanbul.  These nine islands are clustered in the Sea of Marmara and are called the Princess Islands because the Byzantines exiled their princesses here.  Many Turks and Greeks own summer or weekend homes on the islands and there are only 15,000 permanent residents.  The hour long ferry ride is filled with gorgeous views of the city and sea.  The ferry never ventures far from shore and the mosques on the city’s horizon remain in view during the entire trip.


Istanbul from the balcony of the ferry


two of the Islands in the background. one is called spoon!


çay is served on the ferry because this is Turkey and Turks need access to tea at all times!  seriously, I’ve been on six ferries so far and they all serve çay 

The Islands feel like a completely different part of the world compared to Istanbul.  The traffic in Istanbul alone is enough to rival Los Angeles.  But this isn’t a problem on the Princess Islands because there are no cars.  Aside from police and firefighters who use scooters to get around, locals walk, bike, or ride horses to various places on the Islands.  These simple modes of transportation make you feel as if you are living in Ottoman times.  If I could live in Istanbul I would certainly have a cottage on one of the Princess Islands.

We visited Heybeli, which is the second largest of the islands.  The shores are crowded with local restaurants and ice cream parlors.  Flower shops and bakeries are tucked into winding side streets.  We journeyed to Heybeli to visit the Hagia Triada Monastery, which is Greek Orthodox.  As you approach the island you can see houses clustered near the shore and at the top of the hill sits the isolated monastery.  The weather was scorching and the hike was sizable, so when we walked off the ferry we saw a fleet of horse-drawn carriages waiting to take us to the top of the hill.  Each carriage sat three so I grabbed Froso and Tatiana and we found the one with the prettiest horses.


me, Froso (Greece) and Tatiana (Russia). look how fancy this carriage is with the ribbon and the fresh flowers!


me and Froso (who was born on this Island!) in the carriage. the picture is blurry because the roads were so bumpy!




did you see that the horse has an evil eye around his neck?

The Hagia Triada Monastery is nestled amongst poplar trees and surrounded by a rose garden.  The monastery was built in 1894 and prior to this it was a Byzantine monastery.  The monastery served as a theological school until 1971 when the government abruptly closed the school without reason.  Today some monks still live here and are attempting to reopen the school.  The building is architecturally stunning and very different from anything you would see in Istanbul.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Istanbul is the most beautiful city in the world, but every building is either from Ottoman times or a glass skyscraper built within the last ten years.  This style of architecture is completely absent from Istanbul’s city center.


the Monastery’s facade




eerily empty hallways

The Monastery’s basilica-style church is completely covered in gold paneling and illuminations.  Dust hangs in the air and creates a potent, archaic smell.  Famous religious icons reside in this room.  The St. George icon was recently taken out of the wall to protect it during an earthquake.  When the monks moved the icon they realized that the back of the panel was covered in a crucifixion scene.  The most notable icon within the church is the Black Mary, a portrait of the Virgin and Child as African.  Legend has it that an Ethiopian theologian painted the icon in the 14th century and gifted it to the Byzantines.  This is the most prized icon within the church and is placed at the entrance for visitors to see.


inside the Church of the Holy Trinity


did I mention the monastery has goats and a donkey? evidently this was my favorite part

The Monastery is most famous for its library, which houses 90,000 books.  Behind the basilica and the farm is a long corridor filled with books dating from the 9th century.  The majority of the texts are written in Greek and cover everything from Byzantine history to philosophy and ethics. When you walk into the library you must step around a forest of books tucked away in boxes.  They have so many books they haven’t even had time to put them all on the shelves!  The monks are currently digitizing their library which will be made available to scholars around the world.



As we were leaving them monastery I noticed a table filled with votive candles.  Ever since my grandfather Miervaldis became ill my mother and I would light a candle in each church we visited.  There’s a candle in San Marco Cathedral in Venice and one in a church in Barcelona.  Now that Miervaldis is gone this tradition is even more important to me, so at this moment there is a candle burning for him in the Hagia Triada Monastery in Turkey.  Miervaldis was a renaissance man if there was one.  His name is a combination of “peace” and “leader” and it suited him perfectly.  He was the most well-traveled person I had ever met and he always had the funniest stories about his adventures in other countries.  My first time leaving the country Miervaldis, my mother, and my grandmother took me to Latvia to see Riga and their family farms.  Whenever I travel I think of my grandfather and my first experience abroad with him.  He and my grandmother, Janina, are responsible for my insatiable desire to travel and learn languages.



here’s to you, Miervaldis 

The horses weren’t going to come up the hill again so we were obligated to hike down it.  By the time we got to the bottom of the hill we were absolutely famished!  Before catching our next ferry we dinned on the water.  With a group of 54 (because the business group came with us as well) ordering at a restaurant is interesting.  You get two choices: fish or köfte (meatballs).  Apparently the most effective system is for the waiter to run down the line and ask “fish?  fish? fish?” and wait for a yes or a no.  Afterwards he runs back up the line and asks “beer? beer? beer?”  I think I had the best beer today which is Danish but made in Turkey.  When the fish finally arrived it reminded me of something I had eaten on the side of the road in Latvia…


I swear this thing was more bones than meat but I managed to located the meat parts and only swallow two of the bones!

The ferry runs from Heybeli directly to the European side of Istanbul, specifically the Old City.  As you exit the ferry you arrive at the Greek Patriarchy.  If this institution is unfamiliar to you, this is the Greek version of the Pope in Rome.  That will help you gauge its importance.  You enter the building from three doors but the center door is permanently sealed.  During Ottoman times the Sultan hanged the Patriarch in this doorway because he was believed to have been involved in the Greek revolution.  Since then the Greeks and Turks have had a tumultuous relationship and very few Greeks live in Istanbul today.  The Patriarch sees itself as a continuation of the Byzantine empire and even the Roman empire to some extent.

A few priests gave us a tour of the buildings, which are situated around a small courtyard filled with cats.  The priests are Greek and their mission is to travel the world in order to educate people about environmentalism.  The priest I spoke with told me that he had visited New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina.  He explained that the Patriarch’s mission is to promote “love, compassion, and understanding.”  I was so inspired by these words!  Religion should be about loving all people, regardless of their beliefs.  These priests fulfill this idea by loving people and loving the planet, because it is home to us all.


inside the church of the Patriarch


Tomorrow there will be more adventures in Istanbul. Iyi geceler!


There’s a reason kahvaltı is my favorite Turkish word and my username on instagram (@kahvalti_).  I have a love affair with all things breakfast.  My first day in Turkey I sat down with a group of new friends from all over the world and discussed this important topic.  They shared their traditional breakfasts from Greece to Russia and when they asked about a traditional American breakfast I was too ashamed to fess up to pancakes and cereal.  For me breakfast is sacred and not to be squandered on sugary bread.  This is why I am completely enamored with kahvaltı.

Kahvaltı literally translates to “before coffee”.  Although coffee originated in the Ottoman Empire the coffee culture in both Ottoman and modern Istanbul is quite different from what you might imagine.  The Ottomans drank coffee in the evenings.  Today  coffee takes a back seat to tea’s popularity and remains an afternoon beverage if it is consumed at all.  But I think the inclusion of coffee within the word for breakfast shows that coffee was once at the center of Ottoman culture.


the Turks may not take coffee with their breakfast but it is still offered  on the menu. çay is the most common breakfast drink and is free at nearly every restaurant

This morning we were looking for something to do since Turkish class is canceled on Thursdays.  We decided to walk into Şile and have a proper Turkish breakfast..  Şile is incredibly small and limited in food choices but there are a few restaurants that overlook that Black Sea.  Cafe Kristal is one of these restaurants and they are known for their Turkish breakfast.  We brandished our language skills and ordered off the menu in Turkish, but the waiter explained (or motioned with his hands) that it would be absurd to order individual breakfasts.  When he finally delivered our food we could see why: two Turkish breakfasts were enough to feed all eight of us!

Turkish breakfast is a glorious thing.  Instead of inhaling one pancake drowned in syrup, kahvaltı is all about diverse, fresh ingredients.  For the past three weeks I have eaten tomatoes and cucumbers for breakfast each morning.  These are paired with mozzarella and feta cheeses garnished with herbs and olives.  Fresh baked bread is set on the table next to dishes of honey sour cherry jam, clotted cream, and a tahini date paste.



a little blurry but a closer look at the creams, honey, and jam



our breakfast group. from the front left: Betzy (Mexico), Shanay (Kurdistan), Paula (Mexico), Damon (New York), me (Seattle), Linden (Australia), Aro (Kurdistan)


delicious food made even better with this view


this cat joined us for breakfast

Before lecture we had some time to stroll down the streets of Şile.  The town is so small that in the five times I’ve been here I’ve managed to walk into every shop at least once.  But today I discovered a new bakery called Bilir.  They specialize in cakes drizzled with caramel, dusted in coconut, or topped with glazed fruit. Above the cases of baklava and creme brulee are rows upon rows of tiny cookies.  I could not pass up the opportunity to try these beauties.  I purchased a box of them only with some pineapple juice (why do the Turks make such good juice?).  After lecture Mia and I found the best picnic spot on campus and snacked on cookies while practicing Turkish.  You’ll be proud of me, I ordered these cookies without speaking a word of English!  Granted, the shop keeper was laughing at me.




the best cookies were the green pistachio and the little orange one in the bottom right corner, which was made of apricot dipped in chocolate


Tomorrow we journey to the Princess Islands, stay tuned!

10 Things That Surprised Me About Turkey

Merhaba!  I realize there has been a significant lack of blog posts this week.  In truth, this week has been quite boring in terms of adventures.  No food tours and no historical sites, just Turkish class and history lectures.  Since I’ve gotten requests for a new post I decided to do a list of the 10 things that have surprised me the most about Turkey.  This also gives me the chance to share some stories and photos that would otherwise be left out of the blog.

1. Animals

I’ve been able to easily satisfy my furry friend cravings in Turkey.  There are so many animals!  Cows wander unto campus and the first day here I saw two endangered turtles.  Some more unpleasant encounters have been with wolf spiders and cockroaches.  Supposedly venomous snakes live in the Black Sea region but unless your jumping head first into a bush you should be fine.  The most common animals to see in Turkey are feral cats and dogs to the point that I almost started a blog called “Cats of Istanbul”.  I made it my goal to take a photo of every single cat I saw.  So far I’ve succeeded, but I promise I won’t share all those photos on here!  For being feral animals the cats and dogs are surprisingly clean and well mannered.  However, that doesn’t mean you should cuddle every one you see.



feral kedi in Şile


kedi sleeping in the Ayasofya


cats in the cemetery of an Ottoman sultan


Bursa kedi


the kedi that crawled through our hotel window on the first weekend


this kedi has it made! he picked the perfect shop to sleep in at the spice market

2. Kind people

The Turks are some of the kindest people I have ever met.  Start with some old fashioned Southern hospitality, combine it with enthusiasm, sprinkled in some humor, add a pinch of jesting, and you have a Turk.  I have yet to meet someone in Turkey who is unkind.  When attempting to take public transportation my friend and I were completely stranded in a part of Turkey where no one spoke English.  A man came out of a cafe and saw that we were in distress.  He bought us a bus ticket and then road the bus with us for two hours to make sure we reached our destination.  Now that is kindness.  Last night we went into Şile for dinner and sat down at a restaurant not realizing that we couldn’t eat anything on the menu (due to allergies and some of us not eating beef).  We didn’t want to leave right away so we ordered some çay so that we would have something to pay for.  When we asked for the bill the owner refused to make us pay for the çay!  We told him it was our culture to pay for something we drank and for messing up his nice table and he said it was his culture to offer it free of charge.  The first weekend in Istanbul I walked into a bookstore to purchase some children’s books to improve my Turkish.  I went to check out and the old man recognized that I was trying to speak to him in broken Turkish.  I think he put two and two together and gave me a huge discount.


a Bursa local

3.  No grocery stores

I’m that person who makes a trip to the grocery store every day, partially out of a lack of planning but mostly because I love shopping at the grocery store.  Having lived in Turkey for two and a half weeks and travelling the Western half of the country I have yet to encounter a grocery store.  The Turks buy all their food in specialty markets.  Shops either specialize in fish or cheese or they exclusively sell honeycomb or baklava.  I have seen a few convenience stores where you can buy crackers and dried fruit but these are small and uncommon.  The Turks also love to eat at restaurants and the food is dirt cheap.  I’ve eaten everywhere from food stands to white-table-cloth restaurants and I’ve never paid more than 12 lira ($6) for an entire meal.  This is partially because on average Turks only make $12,000/year so food is very affordable.  That being said, if you really wanted a fancy meal you can drop hundreds of lira if you find the right restaurant.


a specialty fish shop. who needs refrigeration?



mmm sheep heads…

4. No toilets

Now that we’ve covered food, let’s discuss toilets.  Or a lack of toilets.  Seriously, banyo nerede?!  I have peed in a hole more times than an actual toilet.  I’m not trying to make a fuss about plumbing, I peed in plenty of holes in South Africa and that was no big deal.  I realize that having a sit toilet is a luxury.  But for as modernized as Turkey claims to be it’s a mystery to me why people don’t install more toilets.  They make your customers so much happier!  And on that note, Turkey does not believe in public restrooms.  If you’re on the top of a hill in the middle of the Gallipoli battlefield and you just drank a full bottle of water, good luck.

5. Beautiful views

The natural landscape of Turkey rivals Tuscany and the coasts of Spain.  Turkey is brimming with diverse wildlife and tropical looking flowers.  Western Turkey is also very hilly with many bodies of water like the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus, and countless lakes.  These features combine to create some of the best views you’ll ever see.  I’ve spent a significant amount of time sitting on a rock on the edge of a cliff gazing at the view.  I know you’ve seen some of these pictures before but I want you to see them all in one place.


the Bosphorus


view from a restaurant in Şile 


the Black Sea


the view of Şile from my room


on the acropolis in Assos

6. The Ottomans

I’ve found the relationship between modern Turks and the Ottomans to be quite interesting.  The Ottomans ruled the Mediterranean for over 600 years and the empire only collapsed in 1923 which is less than a century ago.  After the collapse Atatürk, the president of Turkey and founder of the Republic of Turkey, wanted to distance Turkey from it’s Ottoman past.  His propaganda portrayed the Ottomans as uncivilized and something to be ashamed of.  He abolished Ottoman Turkish overnight and created the Turkish language by rewriting the script in Latin letters and ridding the language of Arabic and Persion words.  Until very recently the Turks have had a negative view of the Ottoman Empire.  Now the Ottomans are rising in popularity but in a peculiar way.  Instead of looking at the Ottomans from an academic standpoint shop owners have gone ahead and renamed everything after an Ottoman sultan.  You cannot walk a street in the old city without seeing a sign for something like “Suleyman’s Kebap” or “Osman’s Favorite Pide.”

7. Politics

This section of the post is a little grim.  With ISIS advancing in Iraq and Israel bombing the Gaza Strip Turkey thinks of itself as completely isolated.  Turkey has a non-interference policy in the Middle East and in fact does not consider itself part of the Middle East.  Turkey is very “Westernized” (although I despise that term) however Turkey is not part of the West.  I talked to our tour guide about ISIS and what Turkey would do if the boarder was breached.  He was a highly educated and intelligent man, but his response was essentially “that won’t happen so why even discuss it?”  The extent of Turkey’s involvement is limited to protecting refugees.  However, the country refuses to let them work or even rent or buy property.  As a result thousands of Syrian families are living on the streets of Istanbul.  These families were middle class in Syria but in Turkey they are treated like filth.  I accidentally walked into an unofficial refugee camp and was overcome with a feeling of despair.  Living at the University the mentality is much different.  Everyone here is extremely liberal and dissatisfied with the government.  One of my professors actively participates in riots against the oppressive government (which is worse than American news lets on).  Last weekend he was hit with a tear gas canister.  He was with a fellow student who was shot almost at point blank range.  He pushed her out of the way and said that if he hadn’t the canister would have gone right through her torso.  For as beautiful and friendly Turkey is, the country has some deep rooted political problems on the domestic and global scale.

8. English

Let’s get back to lighter topics!  Many cities that specialize in tourism are accessible to English speakers.  While this holds true in areas around the Ayasofya it is impossible to find someone who speaks English in other districts of Istanbul or Şile.  If you speak some Turkish or have a knack for pantomiming then you are on the right track.  Luckily I’ve mastered ordering food off the menu, directing a taxi, and buying books.  However if you want to hold a conversation outside the basic “how are you?” you need proficiency in Turkish.  Although I was told that many Turks speak Arabic this is a complete fallacy.  I’ve only used my Arabic to talk with the Saudis on the trip and one person in the Grand Bizarre.

9. Power Outages

Turkey has the third largest carbon footprint of any country in the world (after the United States and Brazil).  Due to the high demand for power and the multiple locations from which it is drawn Turkey experiences frequent power outages.  I’m talking 10-15 times each day.  There was a huge blackout this morning but class wasn’t cancelled because it is a normal occurrence.  In April a power outage during an election forced voting centers to close early.  The candidates suggested that the outage was intentional but the Energy Minister responded, and I quote, “A cat walked into a transformer unit. That’s why there was a power cut. It’s not the first time this has happened.”  Yes, those damn Istanbul cats.  Between Turkey;s horrendous corruption and the multitude of cats neither of these scenarios would surprise me.

10. Greenery

Like any other metropolis Istanbul boats sleek skyscrapers and a broken public transportation system.  But amid industrial Istanbul lies a surprising amount of greenery, both in landscapes and in wild foliage along major roadways.  When you enter Istanbul the freeways are lined with manicured grass and flowers grown in shapes that spell out Turkish words or mimic Iznik tile patterns.  Istanbul also has a significant amount of parks that line the Bosporus.  When you drive out of Istanbul to Şile you might see a few apartment complexes but the majority of the drive is lined with so much foliage you would think you were in the Amazon.  I’ve seen pine trees, lavender bushes, and rosemary bushes that are twice as big as me!


a garden shop in Istanbul complete with lemon trees


a park in Kadıköy


oak trees in a park in the middle of Istanbul’s city center


gardens in Iznik


a man riding his horse down the freeway. behind him: look at all that green!

I hope you enjoyed this unconventional post!  Which entry surprised you most about Istanbul?



Assos ve Truva

Note: this post covers my visit to Assos and Troy on Saturday, July 12th

Let’s start with a funny story.  Last night we drove ten long hours in a crowded bus.  After Bursa half of us turned around and headed back to campus and the other half braved four more hours on the bus.  I generally judge these experiences by how much I want to brush my teeth.  Let’s just say this bus ride made my list of the top five times in my life I’ve wanted to brush my teeth more than I’ve wanted to wake up alive the next day.  The Turks are on perpetual island time which means stopping every hour for a smoke break or to find a cup of Turkish coffee regardless of the fact that the sun has gone down and we’ve been awake for 17 hours.  Turks also take some creative license when it comes to telling time.  If you ask “how long until we get to the hotel?” the answer will be “thirty minutes” which directly translates to “three more hours”.  I was looking forward to a nice hotel on the beach with wifi so I could update the blog.  We arrived at a glorified shack with doors that don’t fit into the hinges and showers that have never been hooked up to a hot water system.  When we walked into the lobby, which was swarming with mosquitoes, I noticed a massive section of the ceiling, five feet in diameter, that was completely soaked through and dripping on the floor.  The second time we walked through the lobby the hotel staff had conspicuously placed a plant under the dripping ceiling.  I stepped forward to hand over my passport and the entire section of wet ceiling collapsed inches from where I was standing!  I was so exhausted I didn’t even react, and the hotel staff froze as if they hadn’t seen the incident.  Of course the day would not have been complete without a ceiling collapsing!  The next morning we walked through the lobby and there was a gaping hole in the ceiling as if it hadn’t occurred to anyone to fix it.

The next day was infinitely more enjoyable.  After a frozen and invigorating morning shower we drove to Assos on the Aegean Sea.  So far on the trip I have traversed the Bosporus, Marmara, Aegean, and Black seas.  Iznik and Bursa are verdant compared to Assos’s dessert landscape.  Shurbs sparsely decorate the hills and cliffs and olive trees grow right on the beach.  From Assos you can spot the Island of Lesbos which means we were only a short boat ride away from Greece.  Sappho is one of my favorite poets and women in history so I loved being within sight of Lesbos.

Assos has a rich and diverse history.  In the 700s BCE colonists left Lesbos and settled in Assos.  Aristotle visited and fell in love with the King’s daughter, Pythia.  Because he was forbidden to marry Pythia, Aristotle taught in Assos for three years so he could be close to her.  On the acropolis (which means “top of the hill” in Greek) the Greeks constructed a temple to Athena and surrounded the entire city with walls.  In the 14th century after leaving Bursa the Ottomans inhabited Assos, strengthened the city walls, and added a mosque.  Today the slopes of Assos are home to locals who make thyme oil and olive soap.  So far I would have to say that Assos is the most beautiful place we have visited.  Because the elevation is so high compared to the surrounding land you can see across the entire Aegean sea.  We were the only group at the site so we were able to explore the ruins and sit on the cliffs while watching the water.  When you stand on the acropolis you can see why this spot was so desirable, not only because it is beautiful but because of its strategic position and proximity to the harbor.


what remains of a guard tower in Assos


Ottoman fortifications


as you can see the terrain is very rocky


this cat met us at the bottom of the hill, walked about two kilometers, and then snuggled with us when we reached the top!


view of the Aegean and the bay. yes, that’s a drop off


the temple of Athena on the acropolis


trying to strike a goddess pose…


on the hike up we drank Turkish coffee which contained mastik (translation “chewing gum”) that only grows on one island in Greece. it tasted a little like coffee with olive oil! very refreshing

By 11:00 we had already arrived in Troy which is 66 kilometers north of Assos.  Troy is in complete disarray for a variety of reasons.  The city was discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in the 1870s and he damaged many of the buildings with his poor excavation techniques.  Schliemann also took one third of all the artifacts within Troy, so everything that remains is basically something he deemed unattractive.  Troy is also located in an earthquake region so everything Schliemann left was eventually knocked down by seismic waves.  I was still excited to see the city even though it is virtually a heap of bricks that archaeologists use to speculate about Troy’s inhabitants.


this is honestly the only city wall that is still standing

People have been living in Troy for 3,500 years.  Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the Hittites may have built the city, which means it would be even older than previously thought.  Troy used to be near to the sea but due to earthquakes and tectonic activity the sea is now much further away.  Many of you know of Troy from the Iliad or perhaps the Brad Pitt film.  (Please tell me you read the book first, the book is always better.)  There is an ongoing debate about the validity of the Trojan War.  The current consensus is that if a war was fought, the operative word being “if”, then it happened here.  However, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that there was a war between the Greeks and the Trojans.  There were surely skirmishes between the Trojans and invaders but the identity of those invaders is unknown.  The Trojans had an excellent defense system which suggests that they were repeatedly attacked.  The Trojans built their walls sloped so when invaders attempted to climb them they could pour oil over the side to make the wall slick.  When I heard this all I could think was that Jon Snow should have thought of this when the Wildlings were attacking…


a few structures left in Troy


a panorama of what remains of Troy




in the amphitheater

The only way to breach the city was to fight from the inside.  As the Iliad explains, the Greeks gifted the Trojans with a large wooden horse which they hid inside.  When the horse was brought into the city and all the Torjans were drunk the Greeks jumped from the horse and captured the city.  Though most likely a myth, the first thing you see when you walk into Troy is a giant wooden horse that you can climb up.  The horse was designed by a Turkish sculptor using the Iliad as a reference.  The artist used all the tools and materials that would have been available in 3000 BCE.  Although the sculpture doesn’t look like a realistic horse it is certainly realistic for the time!



So what do you do for the rest of the day in Küçükkuyu?  You go to the olive oil museum, of course!  This was such a bizarre experience.  It was one room that was far too hot to enter.  We hung out in the air conditioned gift shop and explored the tiny garden.  The only reason people come to Küçükkuyu is for olive oil or to pass through on their way to Troy.



the Turks use olive oil for everything, even hand sanitizer and cologne!  in my opinion it is best eaten with a chunk of rustic bread


olive oil soap

We spent one more day in Küçükkuyu which I have decided to leave out of the blog.  We spent the entire day at the Gallipoli war monuments and battlefields.  While I understand that this was an important visit it is far too depressing to write about because this blog is supposed to make you smile!  So yes, I went to Gallipoli, it was sad and moving, now back to our next week of Turkish class!


Iznik ve Bursa

Today we visited Iznik and Bursa in Western Turkey! This is the trip I’ve been waiting for. I adore Istanbul’s mosques and squares but I was yearning for something different. Iznik and and Bursa are an eight to ten hour drive from Istanbul so they are typographically and culturally different. Iznik is lush and agricultural whereas Bursa boasts the best skiing in all of Turkey. The people here are much more conservative because there is less tourism so we dressed accordingly.
to shorten the trip we ferried across the Sea of Marmara
Iznik and Bursa are rich in Ottoman history. While the Byzantines ruled Constantinople the Turkic tribes were laying siege to the countryside. Under the rule of Osman (Ottoman is an anglicised version of Osman) they captured Iznik in 1299 and it became the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. When you enter the city you are surrounded by fortifications that you can explore. No ticket booths or safety railings here! The walls were built by the Romans in the 2nd century, added to by the Byzantines, and eventually finished by the Ottomans. There are four gates to the city and the one we visited was called the Istanbul gate.
Istanbul gate into Iznik
you can climb through secret passages or scale the entire wall. we did both!
After the Ottomans captured Istanbul and relocated the capital they continued to interact with Iznik. Iznik’s primary export was the Iznik tiles which adorn Topakpi  and the Blue Mosque. Every time you see a geometric blue and green tiles with natural patterns you know it was made in Iznik.  The Byzantines used mosaics and frescos to decorate their churches so the Ottomans invented a decorative theme of their own to use in mosques.  Iznik tiles were comparatively simple to manufacture so mosques could be constructed quickly.  There is also the importance of non-humanoid decorations.  As I mentioned before Islam has had a tumultuous past in terms of displaying humans within mosques. To solve this the decorative motif became Iznik tiles which display patterns from the natural world. The repetition of shapes supports the idea that Allah is infinite. In my opinion Iznik tiles are the most beautiful art piece. I would rather have one in my house than a Greek sculpture! Today the Iznik Foundation has established a school where artisans go to learn the ceramic craft. We had the chance to visit this school and watch them work.
finished iznik tiles, the patterned birds in back are the traditional style
students hand painting the tiles
Iznik’s famous green mosque. the minaret is covered in Iznik tiles
After Iznik we drove about an hour to the second capital of the Ottoman Empire: Bursa (1317). Iznik is a fairly rundown city that is so local the only thing to do is visit the Iznik Foundation. In contrast, Bursa is highly populated and industrialized. The city is built into a hill overlooking a lush valley. The streets are bustling with shoppers and families headed to the mosque. We had merely an hour in Bursa so I’m anxious to return. Here we visited the Grand Mosque built by the Ottomans when they declared Bursa the capital. The Grand Mosque is my favorite mosque by far. Instead of filling the interior with Iznik tiles it is decorated entirely in Arabic calligraphy. There is very little color inside which I imagine is to keep the focus on worshiping Allah. The calligraphy is simple and states the names of Allah, Muhammad, and Ali with some short Quranic phrases. The mosque has twelve domes and skylights as well as a fountain the middle. We arrived just before evening prayer so the mosque was packed with Muslims readying themselves for worship.
the grand mosque
outside the grand mosque. it is so large I couldn’t get a full picture of it!
As evening prayer began we walked through the silk bazaar. Bursa is known for their silk worms as well as their chestnuts. We strolled through the tables of scarves munching on sweetened chestnuts which are quite delicious. We found a beautiful building covered in Iznik tiles which housed a the coffins of the Sultan and his daughters. The family isn’t actually buried here but their coffins are gorgeous, covered in tiles and calligraphy.