Friday, May 31, 2013

Everywhere we travel, I always try and stop by farmers’ markets, especially if they are outdoors.

In fact, I should do another post about all the world markets we have visited in addition to the Turkish pazar photos that I regularly share.

Last weekend, while my husband worked in Budapest, I explored the city and re-visited the 117-year-old Great Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok). This three-storied market, located on Fővám Tér in the 9th district, is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. The brick building was designed and built by Hungarian architect Samu Pecz around 1896.
Many of the stalls were filled with spring produce such as asparagus in white and green colors, strawberries, green and red onions, rhubarb, greenhouse tomatoes and bright red cherries. I also found bags of spicy and sweet paprika, jars of local honey, tins of goose liver, barrels of pickles, bottles of Palinka (Hungarian fire water or fruit-flavored brandy) and lots of links of Hungarian sausage. (I certainly have moved to a pork-centric part of the world!)

I weaved in and out of the bustling afternoon crowds, taking photos as I went along. I tried to stop by one of the lángos stands (a deep-fried flat bread made of potato-based dough) for a late lunch, but the crowds were too pushy at 1:30 p.m. At least, I enjoyed one of these Hungarian specialties in February when we first visited Budapest. If you go, go early!
Here's the Hungarian lángos I ate back in February. Delicious!
Last time, I stocked up on bags of morel and oyster mushrooms (so cheap), both versions of ground paprika, a jar of chestnut honey, as well as Pick (brand) csipos (spicy) sausage and jars of Eros Piszta - a super spicy paprika spread, which goes great in soups.

If you are a local Hungarian, the market is also THE place where you would buy freshly baked breads, local cheeses, cured meats, chicken, fish, beef and pork.

But as a tourist at the Great Market Hall, I recommend simply savoring all the sights, smells and sounds. And just remember, drinking is allowed as early as 10 a.m. here as I saw many people doing last time.

Jó étvágyat! (Bon appétit in Hungarian)
Last but not least, you gotta have a photo of the pork butcher!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

As Polish Lot flight number 136 descended into Warsaw, I stared out in disbelief at the 6 inches of snow on the ground!

This was Easter Sunday, March 31. It should NOT be snowing, I thought.
This is what it looked outside my window as we first landed in Warsaw on March 31, 2013.
We had just left (my heart) in Istanbul where we had a gorgeous weekend frolicking among the lale at Emirgan Korusu and walking along the Bosphorus. We said farewell to dear friends and enjoyed a totally Turkish sendoff at a boisterous meyhane in Taksim.

Now, the Whirling Dervish-swirling snow seemed like a cruel joke. Welcome to my new expat life in Warsaw!

I already felt devastated about leaving Istanbul, and the snow only added to my mounting depression. I turned to my husband, mockingly, but half seriously, told him I was leaving him. I was getting on the next plane and returning to my beloved Istanbul.

In reality, I stayed. I still love my husband, and it wasn’t his fault – really! Our moving choices were either Warsaw or return to a “normal” life back in NYC. We would prefer to stay abroad as long as we can, so the choice was a so called easy one.

Our first day in Warsaw was Easter Monday, so nearly every store was closed, even Starbucks. We briefly ventured out in the blustery snow to find food and coffee at a local coffeeshop. At least, a caffè latte is the same in every language.
Looking back, now the snow looks kinda pretty as seen here in the Old Town of Warsaw.
At some point, I shed a few tears. I was depressed and still a little angry at my husband.

Later on, I thought about the older expat ladies I know back in Istanbul. I wonder what made them give up everything they knew as familiar in the U.S. and move to Turkey some 40 and even 50 years ago. Now, that was an amazing feat for these pioneering ladies who loved to tell me about bringing back their own toilet paper from the U.S.
My older girlfriends, Connie, Elaine and Charlotte, in Istanbul have shared many stories about moving to Istanbul in the 1960s and '70s.
I cried the next two days as well. I slept in as late, swaddled in the down comforter, as I could in our hotel room at Hotel Bristol. I figured the longer I slept, the less time I would have awake to face my new reality in Warsaw.

By day four, I only let a few tears slip and mass messaged friends through Facebook and e-mail. I told myself to buck up and make the best of it. I ventured out again in the snow and discovered a piece of American familiarity at Brooklyn Burgers & Wings on the main street. It’s probably no surprise that this burger joint is owned by an American expat.

After explaining with difficulty that I wanted my burger red in the middle, I settled into a booth and grappled by cheeseburger with both hands. I ordered a Dr. Pepper to drink. I laughed to myself as I listened to rap from the early ‘90s - artists such as the Beastie Boys, Notorious B.I.G. and Blackalicious – play in the background. As rapper Ice Cube once sang, “Today was a good day.”
My familiar American burger found in Warsaw as seen from my Instagram account @mytravelingjoys.
On day seven in Warsaw, I boarded a plane again. I was heading back to the U.S. for two weeks to see family and friends and attend a wedding. I couldn’t wait to be “home” and be in a place where I could be understood.

Fast forward – we’ve now been living in Warsaw for seven weeks. There are no more tears or snow. We’ve settled into a comfy apartment with a fabulous terrace at a fraction of the cost we would have paid in Istanbul. I’ve planted a bunch of herbs and flowers outside, and I’m back in the kitchen cooking homemade dinners and even mini rhubarb-strawberry pies. There’s tons of green space, and we can rent bikes and explore the numerous trails.
Zoomed in view from our new terrace at dusk in Warsaw. 
I still miss my friends, but I’m starting to get out there and make new ones. That’s what expat life is all about.

Yep, I think it’s going to be a good day or a good time here in Warsaw too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In My Love Letter to Istanbul post, I announced that we have moved our expat life to a new location – Warsaw, Poland.

This move had been in the works for a few months, and I’ve been trying to figure out how  to best adapt and make some changes to the blog. Since we are no longer living in Turkey and we may be on the road for awhile, I decided to change the name to My Traveling Joys. I think this name serves as a good blanket for what I write about here – travel, food, living as an expat and my every day adventures.

In my new city, I’ve slowly been discovering new “joys” such as Polish pierogies, local beer, the daily farmer’s market at Hala Mirowska, bountiful pork products and lush green spaces. It’s kind of ironic to go from pork-deprived Istanbul to pork heaven here in Warsaw. I no longer have to fill my suitcases with pork and “smuggle” it across country lines to our apartment. However, I’m sure I’ll be bringing pork to my friends in Istanbul when I return to visit later this summer.
Polish must-eats - meat and cabbage filled pierogies topped with bacon"gravy" at Zapiecek Restaurant.
Beautiful baby beets found at Hala Mirowska in Warsaw.

Upon first glance, Warsaw doesn’t reveal its beauty as openly as Istanbul does. The Vistula River appears quite gloomy and muddy compared to the glistening Bosphorus.
The red roofed buildings in the background signify Old Town in Warsaw.
But as you walk through the Old Town area, you can’t help but marvel at the beautifully restored buildings and want to stop for a local beer and sit under an umbrella and people watch. Unfortunately, nearly 85 percent of Warsaw was leveled by the Nazis during World War II. The hard working Poles have spent many, many years trying to rebuild their city. I’ve got a lot of exploring to do here.
Local artists set up in the large, open square in Old Town, Warsaw.
A view of old and new Warsaw as seen from the viewing terrace at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw.
I hope you’ll continue to follow my new expat adventures here in Poland. Don’t worry as I’ll still be sharing some of my Turkish stories, and who knows where my travels will take me in Eastern Europe.

Here’s how you now can find me:

Tweeting - @MyTravelingJoys

Instagram Photos - @mytravelingjoys

Pinning - @mytravelingjoys

My Facebook Fan Page is still at My Turkish Joys because I haven’t figured out an easy way to change it without starting a whole new page. Any advice?

Thanks to all my loyal readers for reading me every week! I truly appreciate all your comments, retweets, repins and likes.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dear Istanbul,

I never intended to fall in love with you, but I did.

At first, I knew nothing about you. You seemed so far away, foreign and mysterious from my small town roots in the U.S.

You remind me a bit of my beloved NYC because you are a vast, cosmopolitan, energetic and diverse city.

But yet YOU are different and exotic. Maybe that’s what caught my attention.

Bit by bit, I got to know you. I slowly unraveled your history as I wandered through your uneven cobblestone streets, your lively neighborhood pazars and your historic sites.

The Bosphorus that cuts right through you is hard to resist – whether I’m sitting seaside with a çay or a beer, having brunch with friends or taking a vapur to the other side.
I don’t remember when, but one day it just hit me. I had butterflies in my stomach. I couldn’t stop smiling. My heart was racing.

I realized I was in love with you. Don’t worry – my husband knows!

I love exploring your nooks and crannies. I never know what surprises will be in store.

Sometimes I discover an abandoned building sagging with age but still beautiful on the outside such as my most recent discovery of the Sağır Han. I can’t help but wonder who once lived and worked there and what stories the building could tell if it could talk. Were they yabancılar like me?

I love revisiting my same shops in Eminönü for my spices and nuts and the same stalls at my pazar and being called abla (older sister). You’ve finally accepted me and embraced this yabancı into your folds.
Spices at my favorite spice store - Ucuzcular. 
But like true love, there are days that I hate you, Istanbul.

I hate the taxi driver that won’t listen to my directions even if I repeat them in Turkish. I hate the old lady who practically pushed me over while trying to get on to the bus. I hate the cars that try to run me over as I cross the street. I hate the person that always stands on the left-hand side of the escalator as I’m trying to walk up. 

I hate the crowded bus and dolmuş during rush hour. I hate the disorganization of getting on and off public transportation. I hate your maddening, congested traffic. I hate that I can’t fully converse in Turkish.

Every now and then, just like a former lover, you’ve even made me cry, Istanbul. You made me want to bury my head in my pillow and never step foot outside again.

There are truly great days here as well as truly crap days – just like anywhere in the world.

But then such a simple moment will happen as I cross the Galata Bridge and I see the fishing boats along the Golden Horn and the sun reflecting off the top of the Süleymaniye Camii and I’m awed by your beauty.
And then I fall in love all over with you again.

Love, Joy

(Dear readers, I’ve loved living in Istanbul for nearly 3 years. In April, my husband’s job had us relocate to Warsaw, Poland. I’ve been in transition mode and finally am settling down in my new country. There will be some changes, but I hope you’ll continue to follow my expat and travel adventures here! Since I'm no longer living in Turkey, I've changed the blog name to My Traveling Joys.)
Sunset cocktails at Mikla's rooftop bar admiring the view of the Golden Horn in Istanbul.
I never tire of seeing the bridges lit up at night!

My Traveling Joys

Monday, May 20, 2013

As you wander through the complex maze of Istanbul’s backstreets, you may miss some of its hidden passageways and “secrets.”

I know I have or would have if it hadn’t been for local friends or a great guide book.

One such “secret” place that was on my Istanbul bucket list for awhile was the Büyük Valide Han, built in 1651. This crumbling han in Eminönü doesn’t look like much on the outside, but it’s what the rooftop offered is what I wanted to see.

One day with the assistance of my friend Sharon and a must-have guidebook, “Istanbul’s Bazaar Quarter: Backstreet Walking Tours,” we went exploring my favorite backstreets. As regular readers know, I love walking through this neighborhood and wandering by the old hans (see: Kürkcü Han post), fabric stores, the countless bead displays and the bric-à-brac shops. I try and envision what this place looked like centuries ago as weary travelers stopped here along the famed Silk Road.

We turned down several tiny streets, with Sharon asking for directions along the way. The guide book does a good job explaining directions, but these streets can be confusing even for someone who’s lived here a long time.

We approached the back of an ancient stone han and found ourselves in the courtyard of the Sağır Han, which was built next to the Büyük Valide Han. The book says there’s not much history known about the Sağır Han except a nearby marble plaque (now gone) indicated “that in 1651 “Sultan Ahmet I’s wife, Kösem, a native of Crete, had this han built during her grandson’s reign, long after her husband’s death.”

According to Reşat Ekrem Koçu’s “Encyclopedia of Istanbul” (1958-1971), a significant part of the Sağır Han collapsed first in August 1909 and again in March 1926. However,  the han has survived until today by way of (typical) ad hoc additions and repairs.

 Sağır means deaf in Turkish, and I have to wander if the name referred to the deafening sound emanating from the han at one point from old weaving machines. That’s the story I’ve heard referenced to other hans in the area. The han’s courtyard would have been used to stable the travelers’ horses.
Outside and inside the doors at Sağır Han in Istanbul.
In the courtyard to our left, we found a ramshackle staircase and climbed up. We’re always up for an adventure, and I wanted to see the view.

We were not disappointed.

From the han’s rooftop, you can see across the Bosphorus to the Galata Tower, the Bosphorus Bridge, the Süleymaniye Camii and the Yeni Camii. The view is breathtaking!
Süleymaniye Camii is the one sitting on the hill in the background here.
My friend Sharon has lived in Istanbul for 17 years and never knew about this han.

Also from the rooftop, you will see the faded brick and stone Tower of Eirene, dating back to the Byzantine era (11th century), in the northeast corner.  The tower was “once 27 meters high and at one time its top floor was used as a small mosque,” according to  the guidebook.
Left photo: Tower of Eirene
Right photo: Yeni Camii and the Bosphorus
You may not always know about these kinds of places, but you need to ask, explore and maybe get a little lost to find them.

This is one of the many reasons why I love Istanbul and her “secrets.”
Sharon takes a moment to admire the view from the han.
On the left, you can see one of the han's original domed chimneys.
See map here of Büyük Valide Han
Mercan Mah., Çakmakçılar Ykş. (Street)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to do for a long, long time.

For the past three years, I’ve collected more than 100 photos of the street cats of Istanbul. If you live here or have visited here, you can’t help but notice these furry felines everywhere. And I do mean EVERYWHERE! I’ve spotted them hanging out in Ayasofya as well as the Chora Church as you’ll see below.

There’s also hundreds of street dogs, but the street cats seemed to be the easiest for me to photograph. Many of the dogs are larger breed dogs and tend to get shooed away from the main streets. (Sadly, they are often abused too.)

I’m actually more of a dog person, but even I can’t resist these friendly cats, except when I’ve had one or two beat at my legs because they wanted food.

I’ve posted about the street cats before in two neighborhood posts which you can find here: The  Cats of Çukurcuma, and here: The Cats of Büyükada.

In this post, I’ve been trying to learn some new photo editing techniques using Adobe Lightroom 4. I’ve finally figured out how to make diptychs using this handy tutorial on Jay Watson’s Photography blog. Now, I can pair two images side by side, giving me more room to show you more photos here on the blog. Diptchs kind of showcase a mini story in one. Awesome!

Hope you enjoy!

What do you think of the Istanbul street cats as diptychs?

(By the way, you also should check out another fellow Istanbul blogger’s recent street cat post called: Cat-stantinople.)

Left: Ayasofya. Right: Blue Mosque.
Bottom photo: The infamous Callie the Cat over at my friends' place: Denizen Coffee in Sultanahmet.
Top photo: Cat seeks solitude in one of the many hans in the Grand Bazaar.
Bottom photo: Turkish cat attempts to 'capture' the peacock in Yesilyurt.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

On Friday nights, dozens of Turkish men arrive at a nearby covered parking lot to start setting up for Saturday’s pazar in Beşiktaş.

They precariously hang strands of light bulbs and electrical cords across the ceiling. Worn tables are covered in brilliant blue plastic tarps. Wooden crates are stuffed to the brim with fresh produce from around the Turkey.

On almost every Saturday morning (when we aren’t traveling), we wake up and head to the pazar to see what new fruit and veggies there are that week. This is my favorite weekend activity, and the Beşiktaş pazar is my favorite one in Istanbul!

Sometimes I’ll post my latest produce findings on Instagram; and every now and then, I’ll post a recipe using said produce. But earlier this spring, I finally brought along my good camera and took a ton of photos. Yesterday, I finally edited these photos and wanted to share them with you.

I love the vibrancy of the fresh greens splayed out on the tables! The stall holders meticulously lay out their wares every week in neat, organized piles. Some even get artistic with the displays.
I never turn down an offer for a free sample. Olives, cheese, tomatoes, mandalina, strawberries, oranges – you can taste them all before you buy!

The pazar is a bustling, bedlam filled with people clamoring and bargaining over the price of that day’s fruits and vegetables. I could spend hours here.

Afiyet olsun!
Finike is one of the coastal districts of the Antalya province and is known for its oranges.
You know it's spring when çağla (unripe almonds) appear at the pazar.
You can eat the whole fuzzy thing - tart, citrusy and strange. I don't like them.
This seller of üzüm yaprak (grape leaves) grabbed my arm when he saw my camera and wanted to pose with me. He was a very jovial man.
Şevketi Bostan translates to Golden Thistle. This common plant can be simmered or grilled and eaten with olive oil and vinegar (or lemon) as a salad. In the Aegean region, it is cooked with meat or with chickpeas.