Sunday, November 7, 2010

Venturing Out

Two necessities got us to explore more of Istanbul at the end of our first week: checking in at the Fulbright office, and celebrating Julia's 40th birthday. The Fulbright office is on the European side of the Bosphorus, but on the other side of the Haliç from where we live. There we met the kind and lovely staff (a subject for another day,) and were walked by-the-hand through Taxsim Square to get a transit pass (a great little device called an "akbil") and then down Istiklal Caddesi (said Ist-tik-clall Ja-des-e,) a justly famous pedestrian street full of shops and masses of humanity, where we set up a Turkish bank account. 

We managed to find a favorite spot on a tiny street off of Istiklal for Turkish coffee. Good coffee, or even any coffee, isn't nearly as accessible here as might be assumed. As coffee is absolutely necessary to life, we have been taking pains to find both cafes and supplies. Mandabatmaz is the best of the best, specializing in truffle-like little cups of coffee, but they do bring tea on request. We are trying to master the Mandabatmaz swirl of wrist when making Turkish coffee at home. Tea, or çay (said like chai,) is drunk everywhere: in the bank, in the market, on the ferry, during every business transaction, and after every meal. It is made extra strong and then watered down to a drinkable brew in little glasses, with sugar cubes served on the side. 

Istiklal runs roughly North South beginning at Taksim Square and ending just above the Galata tower. Walking down hill from here brought us into the Karaköy neighborhood, which is, among other things, the best area for hardware stores. We have been finding all the supplies and tools we need for our studios in this neighborhood. From there we walked across the Galata Bridge, one of Istanbul's most famous landmarks. Spanning the Bosphorus Straight, where the Haliç/Golden Horn joins the Bosphorus, this double decker bridge is always full of people. Fisherman line the rail on the upper deck day and night, and their hanging filaments of fishing line create a curtain along the lower deck, which is home to dozens of restaurants, restaurant pimps, and great views in every direction of the water, skyline, and boat traffic.

We decided to get on one of these boats and go to Asia for Julia's birthday. Çiya, a repeatedly and earnestly recommended restaurant in Kadiköy, was our destination. Our new akbil transit passes got us through the turnstile and onto the ferry to cross the expanse of the Bosphorus for a mere dollar. The ride takes a little less than half an hour, and gives one of the best views in the city. Çiya did not disappoint. The mission of this place is to revive forgotten recipes from all over Turkey. Considering the write-ups we had seen from chefs, guide books, the New York Times and travel magazines, it is a surprisingly un-touristy place on a pedestrian-only street. The neighborhood, Kadiköy, is known as the most progressive area of the city, and always feels very homey to us. We've been back to Çiya nearly every week since that first celebratory meal. Some dishes, like the reconstituted and stuffed dried eggplant shells, or the excellent slow-cooked lamb and eggplant stew, seem to be nightly fare, but we have never seen again the tiny meatballs with sour cherries, or the pumpkin with saffron, that we had on that sweet night.

Istiklal Caddesi 

View across the Haliç to the Galata Tower 

Coffee at Mandabatmaz

çay & kahve

Making Turkish coffee at home 

Walking over the Galata Bridge 

Passenger ferry on the Bosphorus Straight.
The Hagia Sophia is in the back on the left,
and Topkapi Palace is on the right. 

The Fulbright office, and Taksim Square, are very close to Istanbul Technical University.
Istiklal Caddesi begins in that area and ends near the Galata Tower marking.
The thin line crossing the Hali
ç is the Galata Bridge.
öy is across the Bosphorus on the lower right.

Looking back to the European-side of Istanbul 

Dinner at Çiya. Clockwise from top left is pumpkin with saffron, meatballs with sour cherries, stuffed peppers, and eggplant & lamb stew 

Julia on her birthday night, crossing the Bosphorus for home.  

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