Tuesday, February 28, 2012


In Istanbul, we have so many sports teams - for example for soccer (or football as we call it here) we have Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. Istanbul was even named the European Sports Capital for 2012.

I had been saying for months that I wanted to go to a basketball game and tonight was finally the night! Beşiktaş vs Spain in some kind of special match (no one knew what though so it mustn't have been very important!)

Let me preface this by saying that basketball here is nothing like the NBA. I would probably compare it more to basketball at a good 5A high school. The stadium only holds 3500 people. No concessions. Lax on rules (or maybe they don't even have things like a 3 second rule?) Despite all this, it was still fun. The crowd, even without alcohol, goes crazy almost the whole game with cheers and chants, reminiscent of Texas Fight in my days of UT football. And the game was actually incredibly close - Beşiktaş gave up a double digit lead to trail in the last 20 seconds, and eventually lost the game. The best part? Its not crowded, so you don't have to buy tickets in advance. Just show up and pick your own seats. Easy as pie.

Beşiktaş players and bench

Game action

Beşiktaş fans cheering the team on

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bebek, Meyhane and weekend exploits

After weeks of winter weather, we finally had a gorgeous weekend here which we used to our full advantage.

Saturday, after a hearty American breakfast of pancakes and the last of our contraband bacon, we decided to head down to Bebek. It's a neighborhood right on the water, an easy, albeit steep, walk down from Etiler. We also wanted to give the pup a chance for some good exercise and to see the water. We sat and enjoyed the views (Belle loved all the ducks), then wandered a bit. We found a nice, little fenced in "dog park" where you can let your dogs off their leashes. It isn't big, but it's nice so that you don't have to worry about them bothering non-dog lovers. After tiring Belle out with a new acquaintance and promises of future doggie play dates, we headed back. Man was it a rough walk back up. Istanbul is much more hilly than Texas and it will take me awhile to be in shape enough to do that climb back up without rest stops!

View of the Bosphorous from our lunch spot in Bebek; so nice to finally be able to eat outside!

Good thing we worked up our appetites because Saturday night we got to do our first traditional Turkish Meyhane dinner. It's a family style meal that can last for hours - you just sit back and enjoy the food and conversation. You start off with lots of appetizers - cheese, eggplant (served hummus style), cabbage rolls, bread, and tons of other things I couldn't identify. And of course, a glass of Raki. Later you get salad, then meat (we had liver & onions and beef & potatoes), then finished up with fresh fruit for dessert. A meyhane is not complete without traditional Turkish music. The band goes from table to table playing and taking requests. All in all, we were there three hours and enjoyed ourselves, thanks to our Turkish hosts!

Some of the gang with the meyhane fare on the table

 The band playing for a nearby table - and some of the table dancing along

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mutlu Sevgililer Günü

One of the most difficult things about moving to Turkey for me has been the language barrier.  Talking to people at my apartment, the grocery store, the park, restaurants, can sometimes be a struggle since I do not yet have a grasp on the Turkish language and not as many people as you think speak English here.

The most unusual difficulty with language that I continue to experience is online though.  This great thing called the internet is so smart, that it can actually tell where you are located.  Great for most people, except for those of us who want the internet to be in English, not Turkish! Everything from my google search results to ads I see on pages are in Turkish.

Sometimes though, just sometimes, it can help.  As I click on today's fantastic Google doodle, I learn a great new tidbit of Turkish which is good one day out of 365.

Happy Valentine's Day = Mutlu Sevgililer Günü

 Valentine's Day celebrations circa 2007 - and not on Valentine's day because I was a) sick on the actual Valentine's Day and b) protesting Valentine's Day. I think I should get flowers and chocolate everyday. At least in my perfect world I would!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

2012 Trip #1 Sofia, Bulgaria

One of the best parts about living in Istanbul is that it is a great starting off point to visit lots of other cool places.  I made a goal for Paul and I this year - visit at least 10 new places.  My list includes locales that I may never be able to easily visit again; cities around Turkey, Croatia, Sarajevo, and more.

This weekend, I got to tick one off my list! Paul had some work in Bulgaria this week, so I decided we should make a weekend out of it and see some of the city.  We found a dog sitter for Belle and off we went!

Now, you may have heard in the news about these terrible snowstorms sweeping through Eastern Europe.  Sofia, Bulgaria was definitely included in this.  There was a lot of snow and extremely cold temperatures - it did not get above 0 degrees celsius the whole weekend.

Despite this, we made the best of it on Saturday and took a walking tour around the city.  It was a great way to see a lot of the best sites in the city centre. If you are ever there, check it out here: Free Sofia Tour.  We saw a lot of the great city sites, including the famous Nevsky cathedral.  It was so cold though, that once the tour was over, our feet, fingers, ears and more were frozen, so we gave up on actually going into see any of the sites.  Hopefully we will get to go back soon when it warms up some.

Saturday, we had some great food, including my new favorite salad that is a favorite in Bulgaria, the shopska salad, followed by a few drinks. Feeling a little tired on Sunday, it was perfect day to curl up with a good book in the cold weather.

Now, the question is, where will be the destination for trip #2?

Sveta Nedelya Church - so cold that water froze out of the drain pipes

People still enjoy sitting in the benches even in the freezing cold apparently

People were protesting the Bulgarian version of SOPA and PIPA - this guy seems to have gotten lost from the protests

The lion is an important symbol in Bulgaria - this one sits outside the Hagya Sophia Church. Like the Aya Sofia in Istanbul, it was a church that was turned into a mosque when the Ottoman Empire took over.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Inside the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

Snow much?

The beautiful view of the mountains from our hotel room

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jack Frost Strikes Again

After four straight days of snow last week, I thought we were in the clear.  Despite Punxsutawney Phil's warning, I was hoping that winter was over and we could start preparing for Spring! We had a beautiful weekend of 7 degrees celsius with the sun shining and no sign of snow (past or present).

Okay, fine, groundhog - you win.  Today, winter struck again.  More snow! It has been a record breaking winter here.  Apparently the most snow, or coldest weather, or something like that, in 30 years.  Yikes. 

Positive spin to it all? Belle loves it.  We took a stroll through the neighborhood this morning and snapped a few shots.

The stairs - this is when Belle realizes, YES, we are going for a walk!!

 Our favorite walk spot - the neighborhood park

 The neighborhood park tribute to Ataturk - sometimes he is dressed up with a coat and hat for the cold weather, but he wasn't prepared this time


 Okay, done for the day

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Art of Bargaining

Let me go ahead and give a little caveat that by no means am I an expert bargainer; I would rather just skip over the haggling and get right to a fair price.

However, this weekend with Paul out of town, a friend and I decided to head over to the Grand Bazaar for a little bit of rug shopping - the whammy of all bargaining experiences. Rug shopping is a big deal here - tons of shops in the bazaar and other shopping areas offering up old rugs, new rugs, silk rugs, cotton rugs, kilims, tapestries, you name it.

First time rug buyers - successful day of shopping

Here's an amateur's advice after one day of rug shopping - good luck!

1. When they offer you a chai, take them up on it; it may take awhile so might as well enjoy it. Elma chai is my favorite.

2. Have an idea in mind of what type of materials or colors you like, otherwise they very well may show you every rug in the shop (which may not a bad thing if you have lots of time)

3. Don't expect to be able to haggle them down in one or two tries. It will go back and forth and back and forth. They will take it down off the wall, show it to you up close, tell you what it's really worth or how much it would cost in the US. When they ask you a fair price, go below what you would pay, but you don't want to offend them either. And you will have to stick to your guns.

4. Be patient. In 15 minutes, we talked a guy down nearly 2,000. You have to be willing to a) take it with you right then (this can sometimes help with lowering the price) or b) walk away to the next carpet guy down the hall.

I wasn't planning on buying a rug, but we had a great carpet guy who friends had bought carpets from and he gave us a good group deal.

Can't wait to get the rug into the apartment!

 According to the carpet guy, I am the proud owner of a 70 year old caucasian rug