MangoJuiced: Style steals from an Istanbul apartment

I stayed in this Istanbul apartment last October—and I loved it so much, I “stole” something to take home with me. Can you guess what it is?

Go style stealing with me in this week’s post on MangoJuiced. And leave a comment to congratulate me on my newfound sewing skills. Consider that your hint!
MangoJuiced is a webzine for anything and everything that interests women—from fashion and family, to pop culture and beauty, to travel and lifestyle. Follow MangoJuiced on Twitter and Facebook… and don’t forget to check back in for a new post from me every week!
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Five faves from… Istanbul

Hoo boy, I’ve been busy busy busy these past two weeks! I had so much about Istanbul that I wanted to blog about, but I figured if I had to wait until I actually had time to write about all of it, it would just never happen. And so much has happened since that trip, that I really need to blog and be done with it.

So I’m wrapping up my Turkey posts with a roundup of my five favorite things about Istanbul. I think the tag “five faves from…” could easily apply to anyplace and anything, so watch out… it might just become a regular feature around here!

1) Sweets at Saray. There are lots of sweet shops selling pasha lokum, more famously known as Turkish delight, along Istiklal Caddesi. But all of them pale in comparison to Saray Muhallebicisi, a restaurant, tea and dessert shop that’s been satisfying Istanbul’s sweet tooth since 1935. Saray’s huge storefront window, filled with a tempting array of Turkish sweets, is completely mesmerizing.

Until Saray, I never knew watching syrup drip could be so hypnotic. You are getting sleeeepy… you will want to eaaaat meeeee

Brisk, efficient staff in old-school uniforms dish out tray after tray of sweets to a packed house and long queues at the takeout counter. Towering stacks of treats disappeared literally in minutes. It was fascinating to watch.

Inside: bedlam. Four completely packed floors of sugar frenzy. Those servers were practically mobbed!

Speaking of sugar frenzy, this was another one of those moments where everything was so yummy I forgot to take pictures. Just take it from me, those sweets in the window are every bit as rich and delicious as they look. Best washed down with a hot Turkish tea or strong Turkish coffee!

2) Aya Sofya. It was a photo of the Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sophia) that first made me want to visit Istanbul. The city’s most ancient, and most famous monument was built by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD, and was many things in its long and tumultuous history: a church, a mosque, then a museum.
Behold the splendor, after the jump!

With a soaring, seemingly unsupported dome (a true architectural feat of its time), what Aya Sofia is today is… magnificent.

From the stunning ceiling that once held 30 million gold mosaic tiles (tesserae) to the chandeliers that hang overhead, Aya Sofya left me in awe and simply thankful to be there.

Some beautiful mosaics still remain on the second floor. Great detail, vivid colors, and lots of gold—which I love! They seem to glow even after more than a thousand years.

3) Sunday market at Ortakoy. A neighborhood on the European shore of the Bosphorus, Ortakoy has lots of interesting little shops, cafes and restaurants lining the riverside. It’s also home to a small open-air market every Sunday.

With winter coming and most of the sellers being middle-aged and elderly women, the market was full of cozy, colorful hand-knit items. Right beside the displays were their proprietors just knitting away the whole afternoon.

When I travel, I’m always on the lookout for a funky accessory or two to take home with me, and markets are great places to look. These chunky rings fit the bill perfectly!

I found Ortakoy to be a really nice, relaxed, and very local place to walk around. People just hang out by the riverside for a chat, a snack or a glass of tea (or all of the above) while enjoying the view of the Bosphorus. That’s Asia on the other side of that bridge, by the way.

4) The ultimate baked potato. Most travel guides I read mentioned fresh seafood as the thing to eat at Ortakoy. But looking around the area, it seemed the locals were trying to tell me something else.
It turns out Ortakoy is famous for the many stalls selling kumpir, or stuffed baked potatoes. Or should I say, the ultimate stuffed baked potato.
And when I say stuffed, I mean stuffed—we’re talking 10 or more toppings here. Butter and cheese are just the foundation of this wonderful creation.

Steaming hot and loaded with toppings, it was the perfect lunch on a chilly fall day. It was cheap and filling too!

5) Cross-continental cruise. After shopping at the market and stuffing ourselves with kumpir, Marlon and I hopped on a ferry that took us on a short cruise up and down the Bosphorus. This strait connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmaris, but more importantly, has Europe on one shore, Asia on the other.

Aside literally putting you between Europe and Asia, the Bosphorus cruise is also great for sighting all the ultra-wealthy homes (stately mansions and chic, all-glass apartments) lining both shores, with their jacuzzis and yachts out front.

Like the strange and silly couple we are, Marlon and I had a laugh sticking our noses in the air and showing off our “summer mansions” to an imaginary yacht full of imaginary guests.

To me, it was all very Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But to Marlon, this photo was all about “I’ll bet my orchids, it’s brewed!” Can anyone remember what commercial that was?

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Friday night in Istanbul

Every city has an iconic avenue, a vital artery through which the lifeblood of the city flows. Paris has its Champs Elysees, Barcelona its Las Ramblas, and Singapore its Orchard Road. What Istanbul has, is Istiklal Caddesi. 
That’s precisely where Marlon and I found ourselves on our first evening in Istanbul. We were far too tired to do much more than take an evening stroll, after getting up at 3am to leave Cappadocia and traveling the entire morning. On our way there, dozens of Turkish flags hung up for the Victory Day national holiday waved us on. 
You know things are about to get interesting when you see public art like this, at the south end of Istiklal Caddesi just minutes from our apartment. 
We hit the first bend in the road with a slight downward slope. Looking down at Istiklal Caddesi from that gentle hill, two things immediately came to mind. “Madness!” was the first. What followed next, I had no words for at the time. But now I know what it was: it felt like home. And this shows you why.

Much has been said about how Istanbul is where East meets West, Europe meets Asia. Seeing this for the first time is where it really hit me, with a jolt. Yes, it looks like a European boulevard. Even the idea of an evening stroll is so European. And if you have any doubt that you are still in Europe, you only have to peer into the narrow, sloping side streets that branch off from Istiklal Caddesi.

But the energy, the rush and the madness is all Asia. And instead of wilting at the sight of this crowd, I felt alive. It was the spark of energy I needed after a long day of traveling… and a long time away from home.

I think it mostly has to do with the people. With a population of 13 million, Istanbul definitely feels much more like Manila (pop. 19 million) than Amsterdam (pop. 800,000), and that is especially obvious on Istiklal Caddesi. It seems that half of Istanbul was walking there that Friday night. Another thing about the people… well, they look like me! I can’t count the number of times someone talked to me or Marlon in Turkish during our stay.

Istanbul feels like a city of contradictions. A loophole where 1 + 1 does not always add up to 2. A metropolis bubbling with a kind of craziness I realized that I miss. A place where you can go wild… 

… or go to church. Or both, because this store and the church are right across from each other!

Another thing that reminded me of home? Street food.

Just like Manila, kestane, or roasted chestnuts, appear in the streets when it’s cold. I just had to have some!

Street food vendors are everywhere on Istiklal Caddesi. Some of them, like this guy, were popping open mussels on the sidewalks. At first I thought they were touts promoting seafood restaurants, so I walked away from the first few that I saw.

But then the acid-bright yellow of plump, glistening lemons caught my eye. And you know how I love anything lemony.

These yellow “flags” are how I discovered midye, mussels stuffed with rice and spices.

At €1 a pop, it was easy to just keep stuffing midye after midye into my mouth. The vendors know this, so they will just keep popping mussels open and handing them to you until you tell them you’ve had enough. But with my mouth filled with the taste of spices, sea, rice and lemon, it was far too preoccupied to bother with the word “stop!”
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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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A taste of Turkey

My past experience of Turkish food in the past can be summed up in three words: fast, greasy and cheap. In Cappadocia, I became reacquainted with this cuisine in what was a long-overdue “proper” introduction. It turns out that whatever version of Turkish cuisine has made it out of the country and become ubiquitous around Europe are but pale fast-food shadows of the real thing.
Care for a sampling? Let’s eat!
Top row: At Cafe Safak in the center of Goreme, the owner Ali’s mother makes a competition-winning lentil soup (warm, hearty and cheap!); a refreshing cucumber, tomato and onion side salad; pide, Turkish-style pizza with cheese and sausage. Bottom row: “Pottery” kebap, a meat stew (your choice beef, chicken or lamb) slow-cooked in a terracotta pot that’s broken at the table; chicken kebap fresh from the pot, served with rice; tangy pickled beet slaw; local red wine from Cappadocia.
The Turkish are a people after my own heart. They love their sweets and so do I! Thanks to the Turkish sweet tooth, meals always ended with a variety of delectable pastries. I chose to wash mine down with the omnipresent çay, or Turkish tea, while Marlon opted for very strong (too strong for me!), almost mud-thick Turkish coffee.
Top row: Sweet and chewy borek, a layered and baked (or fried) phyllo pastry that seems to be the Turkish national snack (it’s everywhere!), best with a glass of warm Turkish tea. Bottom row: Marlon enjoying his manly coffee with delicate bites of baklava.

I thought it was going to be easy to stick to my low/no-carb diet while in Turkey. (“They eat a lot of kebabs right? Grilled meat? I should be fine!”) As you can see, I was way off the mark… but quite happy to be wrong!

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