Cat country

Upon our arrival in Istanbul, Marlon and I were both delighted and relieved to find not only a lovely apartment in a fantastic location, but the cutest, most endearing welcoming committee ever. Say hello to Georgie and Bavaria!

Georgie and Bavaria belong to Suzan, our fantastic Airbnb host in Istanbul. My personal theory is that cats are an indicator of a great apartment and a thoughtful host; I was definitely right this time.

Black-and-motley Georgie was the most affectionate cat ever, purring and cozying up to us literally from the moment we walked in the door. (Note: hire her to give Rogue some coaching.) She even climbed into bed for a cuddle on our last morning… just like Rogue would if we were at home! As you can see, she had lots of bonding moments with Marlon. Bavaria was more reticent, but being deaf and very old, that was easy to forgive.

Turkey is cat country. There are big, beautiful, fluffy cats everywhere—the type that would be pet store material in Manila. Being the crazy cat lady that I am, I couldn’t resist snapping pictures of the cats I saw. Coo over the cuteness, after the jump!

In Amsterdam there are shop cats, restaurant cats and even pub cats, but street cats are a rare breed. I didn’t realize how much I missed them until I got to Turkey. They were everywhere—yowling to be fed under the table in Goreme or sleeping outside a jewelry store in Istanbul. And though they were always underfoot, not once in six days did I see a single Turk kick or even shoo away a cat. I even saw a hulking, macho leather-clad biker type bend down to scratch the cat sleeping underneath his bike.

Even the (slightly) posh restaurant we treated ourselves to on our last evening in Istanbul had its own cats, complete with their own bowl of food and water by the door. It’s hard to claim to be really posh with two fat cats like these sprawled across the floor. And I like that.

Dog lovers, I haven’t forgotten you. Say hello to the scruffy scoundrel of central Goreme!

Don’t say I didn’t throw you a bone. Har har har. 

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Courtyard cats

Two weeks, two trips to France and a house full of guests later… I’m back! So much has happened that I would love to blog about. But first let me catch up on a blog post that I was working on before I left to attend Mimi and Pete’s wedding in the south of France.
I had my first outdoor watercolor class on one of those sunny days that are proving so rare in this Dutch summer. Penny arranged for us to paint at the Frans Loenenhofje on Witte Herenstraat in Haarlem. Okay, I know that’s a rather large gaggle of letters—let me explain. 
A hofje is a courtyard around which rent-free houses, called alms houses, are clustered. Dating back to the Middle Ages, hofjes were built by wealthy families as a form of charity, where places where the elderly (usually women, mostly religious) could live for free. 
Living rent-free depended on a number of conditions such as religion, gender and income; Amsterdam’s most centrally located (and most famous) hofje, the Begijnhof, forbids its female residents to have overnight male visitors, partners, husbands or children. (Amsterdam Magazine gives a great glimpse into the house of a Begijnhof resident.)
Many of these houses still exist. The best thing for those of us who are not privileged enough to earn residence in these hofjes is that their courtyards are open to the public daily, usually between the hours of 10am to 5pm. 
And this is what I love about hofjes—entering one is like pulling open a random door to find a special secret garden. Some, like the Begijnhof, are unmarked, so it’s only when you push the right door or gate that you are rewarded with the sweet little thrill of finding it unlocked. 
Inside, chances are you’ll find a small courtyard that’s charming, tranquil and beautifully maintained, with well-planted gardens that, like everything else here in Holland, simply spring to life in the sunshine. 
This particular hofje Penny arranged for us to paint in was built for those of the Lutheran faith, with a Lutheran church within its grounds. 
It also had plum trees and apple trees, which I’ve never seen before. Some of the plums were just beginning to ripen.
But aside from the tranquility, history and lushness of these courtyard homes, I found yet another pleasant surprise that endeared this particular hofje to me. Cats!

Contented, fat, well-fed cats everywhere!

I remarked on this to my painting classmate, Louis, a genteel old Dutch man. “Well,” he said after a thoughtful pause. “You know how it is. These houses are full of old women. And you know about old women and their cats.”

I could have played with these kitties all afternoon, but then I remembered I had some painting to do.

My favorite was this adorable orange-and-white kitty stretched out on top of an old brick wall. She was snoozing contentedly in the sun and looked perfect against the fluffy white clouds and crisp blue sky.

She must have sensed the little old lady in me, because she woke up for a cuddle when I walked up to her.

Then she started squirming and rolling around in the sun. I melted.

Even Dutch cats seem to know better than to waste a single ray of sunshine!

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