Monday, July 30, 2012

When it's hot in Istanbul and you can't get out of the city, do as the locals do.

Dive, jump or simply swim in the cool waters of the Bosphorus strait - the large waterway that divides Europe from Asia.
This Turkish teenager perfectly posed for me as we walked by along the Bosphorus. 
The water certainly looks tempting enough as temperatures hover daily around 32 C/90 F. But I fear the jelly fish, the pollution and the strong currents.

Despite those worries, from as early as 6 a.m. to at least as late as 11 p.m., I've observed young and old men, trying to keep cool in the Bosphorus. Yesterday, we actually saw several older women and a couple young girls in the water too as we walked along the shore.
A nice dive into the Bosphorus.
Families, such as this one, watch as their children cool off in the Bosphorus.
Swimming in the Bosphorus definitely is a man's sport as indicated by the photos I took. At least, several hundred women competed in the 2012 Intercontinental Bosphorus Race we watched recently.

To that tune, I keep ribbing my husband to join the locals in the Bosphorus. "Look, that guy is probably in his 60s and he's swimming out there. You should do it too," I tell him.

I figure he should do it at least once while we live in Istanbul just to say he did it. There's no harm in that, right?

If you want to enjoy a long walk along the Bosphorus, I'd recommend walking from Ortaköy to Bebek; or from Bebek to the Rumeli Hisarı area. We've even walked farther all the way to Emirgan Korusu (Emirgan Park), but you need to be ambitious.
You'll also see plenty of fishermen along the Bosphorus.
A fishing line filled with the day's catch of small anchovy-like fish.
You'll find plenty of cafes, restaurants and stores to pop into as well as a couple of green areas where you can relax. Be sure to pop into TAPS Brewery like we always do in Bebek for a decent malt beer.

Just maybe you'll be tempted to jump into the Bosphorus like the locals too.
And if you get hungry on your Bosphorus stroll, you'll find plenty of street food carts selling corn on the cob, Turkish tea, sandwiches and sometimes even pop corn.

Friday, July 27, 2012

I can hear them, but all I can see are small leaves raining down where they should be perched up in the trees.

But the fully leafed out trees make it difficult to see this chameleon-like bird.

I'm talking about the flock of green parakeets that call Istanbul home.
Bottom right corner, you can see the green parakeet up in the tree.
This week, I've been walking my friend's dog every morning through Emirgan Korusu (Emirgan Park). And every morning, I've been able to catch a glimpse of these green parakeets. 

When I do see them, I also feel like I'm in that old M&M Christmas commercial, where Santa Claus runs into the walking pair of M&M's and says "They do exist." 
Here, you can see an outline of the parakeet in the middle of the photo.
Earlier this year in my 8 hours in Istanbul post, I mentioned I've only seen these elusive green parakeets one other time near the Topkapı Sarayı (Topkapi Palace).

The story goes, according to several long-time expats, that the green parakeets were on a cargo ship in the Bosphorus several years ago. The birds escaped, adapted to the climate and now there are a couple hundred living here. 
Well, I was kind of able to capture one of the parakeets in flight. They are fast!
I've never seen them near Beşiktaş where we live, probably because its a densely populated area with few green spaces.

However, this week, I've been enjoying watching these green parakeets flit about in the trees and hearing them call to each other. I tried to capture a few photos during my walks in Emirgan, but you really need a telephoto lens for best results.

Have you seen these green parakeets in Istanbul or perhaps elsewhere in Turkey?

As I was leaving Emirgan Park this morning, I noticed these wild raspberry bushes and treated myself to a ripened berry.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

As a follow up to Monday’s post about Kayaköy, I wanted to devote another post solely to the abandoned churches left standing here.

In this “ghost town” near Fethiye, there are two Greek Orthodox Churches that date back to the 17th Century. After buying your 8 TL admission ticket, first you will approach the large-domed Lower Church (Aşağı Kilise).
The Lower Church (Aşağı Kilise) of Kayaköy.
It is possible to walk around and inside of the lower church, which features an inscription of 1888, which is believed to indicate the last time the church was restored.

Inside the church, parts of the walls are painted a Robin’s eggshell blue, and you can see some religious frescoes and stone carvings if you look up.
Once upon a time, this was a beautiful church in Turkey.
Religious frescoes inside the Lower Church (Aşağı Kilise) of Kayaköy.
Floor mosiac inside the church.
Behind the lower church, you will find an eerie surprise at the bottom of an old stone cellar – human bones! Well, if you’re curious like we are, you must look down the hole to see what’s inside.
Eerie! An old bone depository behind the Lower Church (Aşağı Kilise) of Kayaköy.
According to the posted sign in Turkish, English and German, the bones were kept in this cellar when the graves needed to be reused. The locals washed the bones in wine and left them to air-dry. An odd custom! We hope they saved the good wine for drinking at least.

I climbed up a stone wall to capture this view of the Lower Church in Kayaköy.
If you trek up the hill from the lower church about 20 minutes, you will find a non-descript little chapel perched above the hilltop. You’ll also be rewarded with a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea and the valley, which is what we did.

We could see another whitewashed chapel in the distance, but you had to hike up a much larger hill, filled with a dense forest. We didn’t have the time.

Later, after wandering through the crumbling houses of Kayaköy, we stopped at the High Church (Yukarı Kilise). The churches were aptly named because of their relative elevation difference to each other.
The courtyard outside of the High Church (Yukarı Kilise) of Kayaköy. 

The High Church, unfortunately, looks like it has been stripped of much of its former beauty, especially when compared to the Lower Church. 
Inside the High Church (Yukarı Kilise) of Kayaköy.
Still, it’s worth a look to visit an old church that probably saw hundreds of baptisms, first communions, weddings and funerals in the past.

Are there other churches you recommend seeing in Turkey?

Other places I’ve seen churches in Turkey:
View of the surrounding countryside from the High Church in Kayaköy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Seeing images of ghost towns around the world filled with abandoned buildings recently sparked a memory.

Last year, when we visited Fethiye, a popular resort city along Turkey’s Mediterranean Sea coast, we spent a few hours exploring the “rock village” of nearby Kayaköy. I promised to share more photos from our trek and I didn’t, but I am now.

Kayaköy, perched up in the hills outside of Fethiye, is filled with hundreds of abandoned stone houses, two churches and several chapels in what once was a thriving Greek village. The village’s roofless buildings stand quietly on the steep hillside, aging and crumbling, but open to those who like to explore.
Kayaköy, Turkey 
In 1923, Kayaköy, known as Levissi in Greek, was abandoned because of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Today, several houses have been restored and are occupied by local residents.
One of the restored village homes in Kayaköy.
You’ll also find a few small cafes and restaurants in the area as well as a pansyion or two if you want to stay the night.

Exposed to the elements and the effects of the 1957 earthquake in the area means the buildings have fallen into ruin. Still, it’s possible to identify certain features such as staircases, the kitchen area, several chimneys and entryways of the stone houses.

Former hearth and chimney at one of the homes in Kayaköy.

Taking a well-worn cobblestone path, my husband and I walked up to the top of one of the hills and were rewarded with a spectacular view of the sea. I wonder if donkeys or goats once were led up this same path.
I think the sign was referring to the long hike down hill to Ölü Deniz seen at the bottom right.
Although it saddens me to think about all the residents who were forced to leave here, Kayaköy is beautiful in its own way.

And it’s eerily silent if you can avoid the tourists.

We pretty much had the village to ourselves during our Sunday hike. When we returned to the otopark, there was a large group of tourists eating lunch at one of the cafes.

We sat down at a table and ordered two Efes beer and shared a gözleme. Not a bad way to end a wonderful morning together before we headed back to Istanbul.
A Turkish woman rolling out fresh dough for our gözleme.
Kayaköy Admission: 8 TL

Here’s the recent article about ghost towns that inspired today’s post: 28 Freaky Ghost Towns You Can Visit on Matador.

You can read more about Kayaköy on Turkey’s For Life, written by fellow Turkey bloggers Julia and Barry, who live in Fethiye.
I've seen these in Greece too! Using old oil containers for flower planters.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer is at its peak in Turkey right now!

Every pazar is overflowing with stall after stall of beautiful fresh produce. I’m tempted to buy everything even though there’s just the two of us at home.

Well, we do end up buying more than we need every Saturday when we visit our local pazar in Beşiktaş. On Mondays, I usually look through everything we bought and start prepping it for use.

Since Istanbul has been fairly hot, I try to spend only one day in the kitchen and make a big dish of something that will last most of the week. That way I only have to reheat the leftovers and make a fresh salad for dinner.

This one-pot recipe is one that evolved from the red and green peppers, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and fresh garlic and cilantro begging to be used up in the kitchen. You could also adapt the recipe to whatever vegetables you have on hand.
All the veggies and spices organized on the table for my Summer Curried Beans recipe.
For spices, I used a blend of curry-like flavors so the beans taste very Indian-like. My husband could smell the beans cooking as soon as he walked in the door. (All spices are available in Istanbul at my favorite spice shop, Ucuzcular Baharat, Mısır Çarşısı, No. 51, in Eminönü)

I also added ground beef to my Turkish barbunya (similar to pinto beans) because my husband must have meat at practically every meal. However, the beef could easily be omitted to create a spicy vegetarian dish.

It will take you about two hours to cut all the veggies and cook the beans, but it will save you time throughout the week. Trust me!

What kind of recipes are you making with the summer produce right now?

Afiyet olsun!
Summer Curried Beans in a bowl served with my Indian fabric I bought on our Singapore trip.

Summer Curried Beans/Barbunya Körili
Serves: 8-10

2            T.                        vegetable oil
3            med.                    onions, sliced
3            med.                    tomatoes, large diced
1            head                    fresh garlic, chopped small
4            ea.                       carrots, chopped in small chunks
2            med.                    potatoes, large diced
500             g.                    kontrafile yağsız kıyma (lean ground beef) from Atlas Kasabı.

3            ea.                       red peppers, 1-inch julienned
4            ea.                       green peppers, 1-inch julienned
3            c.                        Turkish barbunya beans (dried pinto beans), soaked overnight in water, strained
1.5            L.                      water
1            ea.                        beef bouillon cube (et suyu)

1            tsp.                        ground ginger
2            tsp.                        pul biber (chili powder)
1            tsp.                        ground cumin
1            tsp.                        ground coriander powder
2            tsp.                        garam masala powder
½            tsp.                       tumeric

Garnish:                              fresh cilantro leaves

In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until the onions start to brown and caramelize, about 15 minutes.
Caramelize the onions in a large pot.
Add the tomatoes and garlic. Cook and stir for a few minutes.
Then add the carrots and potatoes. Next, add the ground beef, cooking until the beef is browned, about 10 minutes.
Then, add the peppers, beans, water, bouillon cube and spices. Cover the pot with a lid. Cook over medium heat until beans are cooked through, about 1 hour, stirring the beans every now and then.

Serve the curried beans in a bowl. Garnish with fresh cilantro if you are lucky enough to find it here in Turkey!
If you can't find cilantro, fresh parsley would work as well.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Yesterday, we watched the swimming competition of a lifetime - the only one in the world that spans two continents just like Istanbul itself.

More than 1,000 people, including former Olympic-gold winner American Mark Spitz as well as U.S. Istanbul Consulate's Consul General Scott Kilner, whom I have met and even saw yesterday, participated in 2012 Intercontinental Bosphorus Race. The race spanned a course from Kanlıca on the Asian side near the second bridge to the neighborhood of Kuruçeşme on the European side.

The fastest swimmers finished the course in under an hour. The winners were awarded medals in seven different age groups for both men's and women's categories. See news article here.
Two swimmers in the 2012 Intercontinental Bosphorus Race in Istanbul on July 15.

We watched the swimmers tackle the strong current of the Bosphorus along the shores of Kuruçeşme Cemil Topuzlu Parkı. I took a ton of photos and even a short video to give you an idea of what the day was like. Click here to see a video clip of the 2012  Intercontinental Bosphorous Race inIstanbul on YouTube.

I was amazed to see all the swimmers either beat the currents and push ahead in the race, or get stuck in a place in the Bosphorus where they seemed to go nowhere. There were several lifesaver boats in the water in case people needed assistance as well as a helicopter flying overhead.
On the left-hand side, you can see one of the helicopters above the bridge that was watching the swimmers for any dangers.
Later, we even saw a medic helicopter fly under the Bosphorus bridge, but missed taking a photo because we were so engrossed in the moment.

It was scorcher of a day, and I was wearing a black-striped sundress. Dumb me! We decided to take a stroll along the Bosphorus for awhile.

We saw families having picnics in the park and kids playing everywhere despite the heat.
Turkish families having a picnic in the park on Sunday.
These two girls were having fun in the park.
Before we got to Arnavutköy, we also saw a wedding party on a gorgeous wooden yacht. Fancy Turkish wedding.
Turkish wedding party on the Bosphorus in Istanbul.
We ended up walking 3.5 km and rewarded ourselves with some nicely chilled beer at TAPS Brewery in Bebek. I swear it's the only place in all of Istanbul where you can drink a brewed beer that's not Efes Pilsner or Turborg on tap. Not that I don't mind Efes.
Look at all the boats passing through the Bosphorus after the waterway was opened following the race.
It was another beautiful afternoon in Istanbul together, but next time I need to remember to apply sunscreen if we are out for that long! Sunburned shoulders. 

Who else watched the swimmers yesterday?

Docking near the finish line.

Here you can see the results for the female swimmers age 30-39.
Fully covered woman on the left while young boy sits along the Bosphorus.
I kinda thought this photo was funny. One of the swimmers between two ambulances after the race.

Friday, July 13, 2012

As an American living in Turkey, I was shocked to see all the varieties of yogurt when I first moved here.

Stop by any grocery store or a peynirci (a cheese shop), and you will find a plethora of yogurt in plastic tubs, clay crocks or glass containers.

Even after nearly two years of living in Istanbul, I still don’t understand all the varieties of yogurt. Neither do some of my fellow expats. Is there a handbook somewhere?

I understand doğal (natural) and kaymaksiz (without kaymak). But what about the other 18 varieties?

Turkey makes the yogurt shelves in the U.S. look boring where you basically have non-fat, low-fat and plain yogurt.

Then, you have all the varieties of fruit-flavored yogurt in the U.S.  I used to love these yogurts, but now I realize how much tastier and healthier it is to buy plain yogurt and add your own fresh, cut-up fruit.

In the U.S., the closest thing you can find to Turkish yogurt is the Fage brand of Greek yogurt, but that’s about it.

In my kitchen in Istanbul, I’ve fallen in love with süzme yoğurt  - a strained Turkish yogurt that is extra creamy, extra rich and thusly, extra fatty. But ohhh so good!
Organic Turkish süzme yoğurt served with fresh raspberries and a sprinkling of sugar.
Süzme yoğurt is the perfect substitute for sour cream and also is a key ingredient in some of my muffins, scones, cakes, my breakfast and even summerpopsicles.

This particular süzme yoğurt, I bought this week, is made by Elta Ada, an organic farm on the Turkish island of Gökçeada, established in 2004. Simply tir any type of fresh fruit into this thick yogurt, sweetened with a little sugar, and you have the perfect snack!

Gökçeada is Turkey's largest island in the Aegean Sea and is known for its organic farming practices. More than 400 producers are involved in organic viniculture, olive oil, animal breeding and organic vegetable gardening on the island.

Sounds like another place to add to my constantly-growing list of places to see in Turkey. I cross off one destination just to add two more to it!

Maybe one of the farms on Gökçeada would let me volunteer to work for a day there. Any takers?

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my organic süzme yoğurt with a fresh batch of frambuaz from the pazar.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

When you explore a new part of a country, sometimes you just get lucky!

Or lost.

We did a bit of both on our recent trek to Mount Nemrut in southeast Turkey.

After walking around the ruins of Arsameia, we decided to make the 3-1/2-hour journey back to Gaziantep. There are several other ancient sites in the area to see such as Yeni Kale (New Castle) Karakus Tumulus, the ancient city of Perre (near present day Pirin), Derik Kalesi (near the village of Datgeli) and Gerger Kalesi. But we just didn't have the time. 

Luck was on our side because as we rounded a winding bend in the motorway, just missing several cows alongside the road, I could see Cendere Köprüsü (Cendere Bridge or Severan Bridge) in the distance. I had been slightly pouting since I wanted to see this Roman bridge, but couldn't find it.
The Cendere Bridge is located in the background to the left.
The Cendere Köprüsü, dating to early 200 AD, spans a tributary of Kakta River in one single stone arch. The bridge measures 120 meters (390 feet) long by 7 meters (23 feet) wide. The highest point reaches 34.2 m (112 feet).

Until recently, cars and small trucks were allowed to use the bridge. But now, a new black-top paved road and bridge has been built, and the bridge is closed off, except to pedestrians. Nearby is a small area where you can pull off the main road and stop.
This farm tractor, pictured left, was collecting many of the rocks in the creek bed. Wonder why?
According to the Latin inscriptions on the bridge, the bridge was built by the Legio XVI Gallica, a Roman legion stationed in the ancient city of Samosata. It was constructed in honor of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus, who reigned from 193-211 AD, and his wife, Julia Domna.

The bridge was originally constructed of 92 stones, each weighing about 10 tons, but restoration work occurred in 1997. Three of the four remaining Corinthian-style columns measure 9-10 meters in height.
I can just imagine horses galloping over this bridge back in the day. And to think this amazing bridge is in Turkey NOT Italy!

If you are in the area, definitely take a few minutes to stop and photograph this Roman bridge. Or if you have time, bring a picnic lunch and join the locals here.
There were several families setting up picnics and even grilling with their mangal along the creek here at Cendere Bridge.
Our lucky discovery certainly proved that you never know what you'll encounter around the next bend.

* Note: We had a fantastic trip in this area, and it's fairly easy to do on your own like we did. We prefer to do our own thing, and it does help that we can speak conversational Turkish. Also, there are lots of tour companies that specialize in treks to Mount Nemrut and other sites around here.
My husband looks so small standing next to these columns.
As we were leaving, two young boys passed by, leading their donkey to the creek.