Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Istanbul - a Mosqued Ball

April 2nd - April 17th, 2014  We left Rome for Instanbul via Turkey's Pegasus airlines. It was an easy trip with thanks to the woman at check-in that gave us a 'wink' on our slightly overweight bags. However I should note that I breezed through security with a forgotten, full to the brim water bottle in my carry-on. Hmm. Seems like a part of the world that might have cared about that sort of thing. Upon arrival we were directed to a window where we were required to purchase a visa for 20 Dolars (see sign below) before heading to customs clearance. Seemed a little less than official.

At least we got lovely stamps in our passports!
Our newest home was in a neighborhood called Cihangir. It is an emerging artists enclave and a 'hip' place to live. I put that is quotes because we are, afterall, in a Muslim country. We loved it! Lots of quirky galleries, shops, restaurants and easy access to the metro system. We could also walk to the shores of the Bosphorus and catch the tram into the center or walk the other way to bustling Taksim Square.Here's the link to our apartment: It was very comfortable and quiet with a garden view.

A delicious traditional Turkish breakfast. So healthy - and so good!
Our favorite lunch - maybe not quite as healthy but just as good!
Pomegranates waiting to be juiced. Back to healthy!
If you stay in this area it helps if you like cats. Lots of cats. They peer in your windows, sleep on your car, long for your scraps, jump on your lap and basically swagger through the neighborhood - knowing the neighbors will take care of them. There are even kitty condos lined up in the alleys!

Just step over me please.
We added Istanbul to our itinerary for the opportunity to connect with two wonderful women who influenced our lives as a family a long time ago. I am afraid this blog may be more about them than the wonders of Istanbul. Which, of course, are endless, but the chance to sit and reminisce with Sevim and Fatma was priceless.

As many of you know we lived in London from 1986 to 1991 when Michael took a job with the sports management company ProServ. We moved from Seattle as Chris, Mary and Kelly turned 2, 4, and 6 and Alistair joined us a few months later when he was 14. We bought a house in a village a short distance from Hampton Court (about 15 miles from London) called Sunbury-on-Thames. Our house, No. 3 Willowbank,  was built in 1789 and sat just across the road from the River. It was an amazing experience to live there and to raise children there - but it would not have been the same without a series of Au Pairs that helped with our hectic lives. Michael was working and traveling like crazy and I was freelancing to begin with as a copywriter and then worked for two different ad agencies before starting a freelance company of my own called Willowbank Design.

We had several girls live with us over those years and they helped with the kids and running the house when not attending English classes. They all had their benefits and made an impression on our lives - but until Fatma and then Sevim arrived from Instabul for a year each, we didn't know that so much love and lasting friendship would come from those relationships.

Sevim with the kids on her last day in 1991
After 24 years we were able to connect with both of them. And with true Turkish hospitality, they made our time together beyond special. When Sevim joined us in 1990 she brought great energy and humor to our family. She was always laughing and hugging everyone! A lot.

We enjoyed a fabulous family meal at her home with her mother, brother, his wife and their two children. Sevim is an excellent cook and while she lived with us we had a great time in the kitchen together. On this occasion she spoiled us with all of our favorite dishes she made in Sunbury - Dolma, lemon chicken soup, Kofte, Pilaf, her amazing apple pie and more. It was so nice to be hosted in her home and see her with her family.

Sevim with her Turkish spread and dear brother Ishmail
Two days later she treated us to a six hour boat tour on the Bospherus. We spent the whole sunny afternoon leisurely heading up the strait and back with a stop for the perfect lunch of whole fresh fish off the grill and frosty beers - followed by best handmade ice cream I have ever tasted.

On board the Bosphorus tour with english audio tours loaded
Enjoying the day with one of our Turkish daughters

Our other beautiful daughter, Fatma. We both cried often!
Next up was a much anticipated day with Fatma and her family. Fatma came to us in 1989 fresh from University. She was shy and her English was not as advertised, but we fell in love with her gentle ways, her easy smile and her immediate attachment to the children. Her English improved dramatically under the guidance of our young, demanding children! Fatma's future husband Sungur joined us in Sunbury shortly after she arrived. He took a room nearby and took courses at a nearby college. He also became an entertaining part of our family and even became our housekeeper! They married and have two lovely children, a precocious ten year old son Alperen, and the beautiful Tugba, who is 19 and hopes to become an English teacher. They also have a very cool kitten named Shadow. 

Fatma and Sungur live on the Asian side of Istanbul. We took a quick ferry ride across the Bospherus and they met us at the boat. I don't think I have ever been hugged harder! We took a drive through the area along the coast and then up to Adile Sultan Sarayi, a huge, elegant restored palace that is now a special events venue and museum. It housed an elegant restaurant with an expansive view of the European side of Instabul and the water. The lunch was typically turkish and delicious. We had so much catching up to do that we sat there for three hours!

Four very full friends after our long and lovely lunch!
Both Sevim and Fatma had tons of photos from their time with us.
Next we headed to their home to meet the kids and have tea. Sungur has a extensive record collection and elaborate sound system so he kept us entertained while Fatma served tea and homemade pastries. We caught an evening ferry home and collapsed in a food coma! 

The ladies - Fatma, me and Tugba (pronounced Tuba) in a selfie
In between fetes we took visited the Blue Mosque, Tapeki Palace, the Grand Bazaar, The Spice Market and wandered the length of Istiklal Caddessi; one of the four great shopping streets of Europe! It was also tulip time in Istanbul. The parks and gardens, balconies, and even the sides of the freeway were decked out in elaborate plantings that added a big dash of Spring color to even dark corners of the city.

One of the many tulip gardens in contrast with the ancient buildings
The Grand Bazaar was a maze of merchandise. I haggled for a silver chain
Preparing to visit the The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
And of course, there was a football match involved! We met up with a new friend, a young man named Dorukhan Gungor that Michael befriended on a walking tour in Barcelona (he's so good at that) to watch the all important Derby (intercity) match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahc.

Skewers of lamb and peppers being grilled for a Icli Kofte dinner.
Michael tried to get two tickets to the match but the prices was sky high for this annual clash between Istanbul's two biggest rivals - $500. per ticket, so Dorukhan arranged for a delicious, traditional "Icli Kofte" kebab dinner in a town two trains ride away called Sanyer. Then back to the city to our reserved table on the top floor annex of a tavern on Nevizad Street to watch the broadcast. This narrow, winding street is lined with restaurants and bars, and every one was filled to the gunnels with fans. Not of both teams mind you. If you showed up in Fenerbach colors in this street you would have been served up as dinner. Our perch was above the fray, and as always, being with a local person was so helpful. Dorukan was very gracious and fun to be with and gave us great insight on the scene. The match itself was harrowing (and fun) to watch. I am glad Michael was not in the potentially dangerous melee at the stadium - the street scene outside the bar was crazy enough!
Press coverage the day after the Derby. So fun to watch.
Too soon, it was time to move on. Fatma and Alperin came to the airport for one last hug and to see us off. We will miss them and all that she and Sevim did to make our stay magical and memorable.

We are looking forward to visiting Sarajevo and seeing first hand the aftermath of the war there. Michael already has a football match lined up as well! I read the Cellist of Sarajevo in anticipation and it is a great read.


Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ruined Romans

We were feeling his pain
March19th - March 31st.  We've been battling colds with persistent coughs, stuffy heads, achy bones, scratchy throats, and a little lethargy. We feel a little like our friend here, but we rallied and enjoyed our time in Rome to the fullest.

Speaking of ruined. This map got a work out!
We arrived in Rome via Barcelona on Vueling airlines, Spain's version of Easy Jet, with no difficulty.  It may have been the smoothest travel day yet, but we were still quite a distance from our airbnb apartment. A taxi ride from the airport is a luxury on our Nomad's budget, but we try and take it easy on entry days since we often don't know the city. But once we learn the terrain we walk or use public transport during our stay and, if practical, we use it to reach the airport or train station for the next leg. In this case we splurged on a taxi from the airport to our front door.

The bridge we used to cross the Tiber River to the city

One of the more interesting aspects of traveling this way is you don't always know what your front door looks like. It's not like pulling up to a hotel or going home to Mom's. After a good 40 minutes the taxi parked between a sketchy looking motorcycle repair shop next to a restaurant that looked like it hadn't had guests (or at least changed the decor) since the 70's. Luckily our lovely host, Federica raced around the corner to welcome us with hugs and to help with our luggage. It was a good thing since she lead us through some creaky green gates that led up a switchback driveway past several apartment buildings until we reached the top of the hill. Of course. If she hadn't been there it would have been challenging to find.

I can see Michael and I getting matching Vespas some day
As always, the apartment was great. In this case, lots of personal style and thoughtful decor made it Nomad worthy  Enjoying life as a local starts with living in someone else's home, and as long as you don't have to step over laundry, deal with weird stuff in the bathroom, and the bed is comfortable ( we are traveling with our beloved pillows from home - it makes all the difference) then we are fine.

Most often our homes-away-from-home have matched or exceeded our expectations. We've got our airbnb search criteria down and we zero in quickly on the places that work best for us on price and amenities - and now we look really closely at the pictures for clues as to what the space is really like. I think airbnb should hire us as ambassadors at this point!

Meanwhile, back to Rome. Our neighborhood was truly residential  - definitely not on the tourist maps, although we were only a 20 minute walk from the Vatican. We were on the opposite side of the river from the center of Rome, but just a short metro ride away from the heart of the city. 

We seem destined to live on hills wherever we stay
As we explored our side, we found an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants and street markets selling everything you could possibly need. Or not. The Aquarium store was next to the barbershop, that was next to the Kebab joint, that was next to one of dozens of coffee houses, and so on. And as much as I love shopping, you can see in this next photo there was no real need to top-up my summer wardrobe.

Open back? Leopard strapless? Too hard to decide.
However, just down the street there was an excellent grocery store. Odd that I didn't find a fresh food market nearby, but this place was great. But the really great find at this store was Marco! My new found friend and superb store clerk. He was so helpful and very funny. His English was delightful and he was committed to learning all about Seattle and our travels. He helped me find the ingredients for Banana Bread - baking soda and vanilla being the odd ones, and of course that earned him some of the final effort. It wasn't my usual Blue Ribbon winner, and in fact he declared it a little too sweet for his taste, but it earned me a lovely bottle of Pinot Grigio as a going away present on our last day. We will definitely stay in touch.

Whew! Found it all with Marcus at my side. Although he didn't believe me that you could use Bicarbonate in baking.
Who needs a blue ribbon? Thanks Marco!

I did have the most fabulous pizza almost every day from a hole in the wall about a half a mile from the house. There was a line out the door every day for a reason.

In Rome's 'rustic pizza' shops fresh pies are lined up on a hot stone counter. They are cooked as large rectangles and you buy your pizza by weight, so you can try several flavors from an array of a dozen or more. If you choose a mix it goes in a box - in my case the 6" x 9" chunk was scored, folded and  wrapped in wax paper for immediate consumption. For my daily delight I settled on a large, just-out-of-the-wood-burning-oven slab of sweet cherry tomatoes,sassy green olives and cheese.

Linus obviously disapproves of me having more pizza, but Snoopy is all for it.
Am I leaving out art, history, culture and religion? Sorry! We got great big helpings of those as well.It started with our 'must have' free walking tour covering the highlights.We also took the free Vatican walking tour a few days later. Once we had our bearings and had the metro figured out we were off and, well, walking.

Still pondering this one. Worth some coins in the pot.
Fresh cold water from unlikely spigots found all over town
Michael had not been to the Vatican before so it was a much anticipated visit. We attended mass at St. Peter's on our first Sunday and then stood in awe of the interior of the basilica and it's saturation of art and history. We stepped outside to head to our next stop but instead we were swept up in a throng of 40,000 people gathered to watch several big screens while keeping an eye on a very tiny window on the top floor of the Papal palace as Pope Francis delivered his fifteen minute Sunday address. We saw both - but if you have even a drop of anxiety when it comes to crowds you would not have survived this ordeal.
This shot doesn't begin to show the Holy See of humanity!
One must-see I didn't know about was the Vatican Museum. And even after encouragement I wasn't sure I wanted to see a bunch of musty relics collected (pilfered?) by Popes. Boy was I wrong about this one. It's almost hard to describe the artwork and the opulence to be discovered in every new hallway of the Papal Palace that housed this museum. Of course there were Egyptian treasures, and so many marble statues you might think a goodly portion of the Roman population had been turned to stone. By the way in statue heaven everyone gets their body parts back!

Just one of many mind boggling hallways in the Vatican Museum
And gold. There was a lot of gold. But it was the truly magnificent paintings and frescoes that made me dizzy. That also could have been from looking up the a lot of the time, but mostly because they were real. In place - painted by every famous Italian master you can imagine. Did I mention the Sistine Chapel? I didn't even know you could go there! And there was so much art to go around there were electric plugs drilled into masterpieces that most museums would die for.

Just a glimpse of what lies overhead
The weather in early April wasn't bad and we were able to avoid long lines. Having said that, our colds were keeping us on a slower pace than normal and we didn't try and do too much. We took in two free classical music concerts at the English Church and a lovely performance of opera, ballet and chamber music combined at another cathedral. I am afraid my churches are all running together at this point - but if you travel like this, be sure and check posters outside of churches because we've found there is always something wonderful to see or hear that you might not find otherwise.

I loved this angel. She can be my guardian any day. 
We took a great day trip out of the city to Castel Gondolfo where generations of Popes have cooled off at their official Summer Palace. It was a lovely sleepy afternoon ahead of the tourist season. We had a great lunch with a view of the lake, played some backgammon and just lived in the moment. On the train ride back we followed Roman ruins all along the Appian Way.

The trusty train that chugged up the mountain for our day out.

A lovely lunch, backgammon, books and a bottle of wine. All is well. 
The view most of the way back to Rome
Michael was able to put together another outstanding football experience. He watched The Lazio vs. Parma Match at Stadio Olimpico and had another great story to tell including purchasing his ticket in a sporting goods store where the door was flanked by bouncers and there was a solid police presence.

The store where Michael worked his way in and came out in one piece.
Match number 12 on our trip! A great part of the adventure.
Too soon it was time to leave. But we are looking forward to Istanbul and seeing dear friends there.Thanks again for following along. This blog is a good excuse for me to keep track of our adventures - and we appreciate your comments.

Fondly - Debbie and Michael

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tapas Dancing in Barcelona

March 5th - March 19th. Planes, trains, buses and bicycles have taken these Senior Nomads to 10 countries and over 30 cities since we left Last July. We've revisited many places we were familiar with from our time living in Europe and other pleasure trips, but Spain just wasn't on our radar.

I do remember a quick work weekend in Madrid in the 80's and Michael and son Christopher had a great visit to Barcelona together in 2000, but until these past two weeks in Barcelona, I don't think we really appreciated this wonderful country. Had we known that once you've come down with Tapas Fever you don't really look for a cure - and dancing in the streets at midnight is just what you do, we could have easily settled here for a few more weeks. Maybe on Senior Nomads Round III.

 Tapas were everywhere! Buffet style, at the bar,Wherever.Whenever.

For those of you who know how much I like to read about food, think about food, cook any kind of food, write marketing prose about food - but, when the fork hits the table, don't actually eat much food, you will also know that I found Nirvana in small terracotta plates. Tapas! They were filled with my favorite salty, savory, fishy, porky, tomato-y, potato-y, obsessions served all different ways on demand - and all just my size. If ever there was a restaurant that combined the Sushi-go-Round with a Tapas-go-Round (we could call it Tapishi) I would have to be pried from the table.

And then there is Paella. Now that it something I can eat large plates of. In fact, I took a Spanish cooking class and we made a mountain of it. This version used a large squid like creature called a cuttlefish and its sticky ink turned the dish a deep dark ocean blue.

I am so glad Rafael volunteered to clean our Cuttlefish.
The most flavorful tomatoes I've ever tasted.
The finishing touches to our days work..
The class started with a walk through Barcelona's famed Borquieria fresh food market to gather ingredients. Once we were back in the kitchen we made (and immediately drank) several pitchers of fresh Sangria while preparing the base for Catalonia Creme to chill for dessert. Then we made two large pots of fresh fist stock using what looked like the ravished leftovers from a sea lion's dinner. On to Gazpacho with gusto, Potato and Onion Fritatta, Pan con Tomate (crusty bread slabs toasted and vigorously scraped with pieces of garlic and then gently rubbed with the cut sides of vine ripened tomatoes). Did I mention the Paella? It was a labor of love but so worth it. Beyond the tender cuttlefish, there were lanky crayfish, huge shrimp with all their lovely bits, buttery mussels, and spicy chorizo chunks. We dined on the fruits of our labors while our instructor took us through a regional wine tasting - all in all, a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Our apartment was in the center of the city on the edge of the Bjorn district and just a few blocks from Plaza Catalonia. We could easily walk to the Cathedral, and the Palau De La Musica - and with a little morning fortitude we walked to the harbor and nearby beaches. We had a metro station across the street for adventures beyond our four mile walking limit! We took the free walking tour as usual and Michael took the Gaudi walking tour while I was at my cooking class. We hiked up to Park Guell for more Gaudi gawking, and a trek to Montjuic. We enjoyed two great concerts including a trio of Spanish Guitars in one of the cities most beloved churches, the Santa Maria Basilica del Pi and a rousing piano recital.

Yet another happy couple shot - this time on Montjuic.
Stumbled on what looked  like a Pagan Ritual celebrating your stuff. But in fact it was a lovely traditional dance performed every Saturday night in Cathedral Piazza by dozens of the young and old alike to rousing live music. Although every circle did dance around their stuff...for safe-keeping.
Mr. Campbell enjoying Gaudi's glory in the sun.
I regret not getting to the Picasso Museum, but the days were perfectly filled with our commitment to live daily life - including wifi and cell phone challenges (a separate Nomad blog for all that!) Some days we stayed home and read and did laundry, caught up on bills and our daily diary, played Scrabble, cooked and counted our blessings. Oh, and watched the Barcelona Marathon pass by under our balcony while having breakfast on morning. Nice!

A go-to first night dinner featuring roasted chicken and potatoes
One last highlight! Through a friend in London Michael was able to get his hands on a rare ticket to the FCBarcelona vs Osasuna match at the hallowed grounds of Estadi Camp Nuo. The match  was in the afternoon on a Sunday. It was a beautful day, and since Michael loved the hype and excitement around the stadiums when he'd attended matches in other cities, I decided to escort him to the stadium to see the hoopla for myself and then head off for some alone time and a civilized dinner. As it turns out when Michael opened the ticket envelope at the gate he discovered two tickets and two VIP wristbands! Well hang on a minute - maybe I would consider a slight change of plans!

With credentials in hand, we were able to nod to the riff-raff, take a few pictures, and then beeline to the VIP lounge where there seemed to be unlimited bubbly and beer (no alcohol served outside or inside the stands for the aforementioned riff-raff), and tapas. We found our very VIP seats and settled in. I stayed for a respectable hour and then scooted off to seafood dinner. Michael was able to witness a very important moment in soccer history as the revered Senor Messi scored a hat-trick; 3 goals in one game and become the all-time leading scorer for the club. Sorry I missed it, but by then I was deep into a entire grilled sea bass loaded with rosemary, lemon and garlic. Something Mr. Campbell cannot appreciate. So it was, as we say in America, a win-win situation.

Sorry boys - No wristband, no real beer. But I love you all.
 Michael getting warpaint for BFC. He loved it!
 Over the course of our travels we've had some good discussions about the future. How long can we do this? How long do we want to do this? What does the next phase look like? We both feel I can return to work of some kind to top up the retirement fund. That's fun to think about, too. Michael does love his yellow pad and a good Excel sheet - so we're working the options.

I should have left a 'job-seeking' notice for a full-time Tapas Taster on this board
Next up Rome! We have a great place booked that is about a 20 minute walk from the Vatican.
I'll catch you up in a couple of weeks. Thanks for reading.

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads

p.s. Did you know that Salvador Dali designed the Chupa Chups logo? Makes you respect those little suckers more now, doesn't it?