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: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/85717. 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.

Fondly,

Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads 




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