Friday, December 31, 2010


Today we are posting photos of all the sweet folks that have visited us in Istanbul so far, along with some of the new friends we have made here. Looking forward to many more visitors in 2011!

Colleen on the peak of Buyukada, Princes' Islands 

Mark and Bruno in Topkapi Palace

Julia's brother Paul on a carriage ride in Princes' Islands

Paul on the ferry

Bob and Dick on Istiklal Caddesi. Bob is our friend from Philly, and Dick is living here for the year.


Ulku (left) and her sister Arzu in Ortakoy, a beautiful neighborhood on the Bosphorus. We met Ulku through the Istanbul Fulbright Office.

Fellow Fulbrighters Aimee and Jordan.

Kris and Sarah on Princes' Island

Students from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at Rustem Pasa Mosque:
Courtney, Kara, Ewa, Julia, Connie, Gibbs, Sinead, Lucia, Morgan, Galen and Shane

Dale at the Blue Mosque

Shane, Sarah and Dale in Taxsim Square

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Decorations in Istanbul

We had been looking forward to a year away from the holiday music, shopping, decorations and expectations that usually mark our Decembers as Americans. While we are missing our families and friends even more this week than ever, we didn't at all miss the eight weeks of merchandizing that normally lead up to December 25th. Perhaps we will feel a twinge of regret as the year closes without carols and eggnog. But Istanbul, it turns out, is not totally devoid of holiday spirit. It is just done on a smaller scale and for a much shorter duration. 

In the past week, Santas, reindeers and Christmas trees have appeared. Some leave us nostalgic, and others make us laugh. But as we continued to point out decorations to each other, we realized that we weren’t such scrooges-at-heart after all.

Our Christmas will be spent visiting the classical sites of Ephesus and Pergamon, on Turkey’s Agean coast. We will be taking a break from the blog until we return to Istanbul next week. Until then, our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas.

Near the Egyptian Market 

Christmas Blend at the Starbucks

Santa selling lottery tickets on Istiklal Caddesi


This fiberglass bear, now even weirder in his Kris Kringle attire, is a permanent fixture over the entrance of an expensive hotel here.

Billboards over Taxsim Square 

Simit vendor in Taxsim Square. The extremely popular simit is kind of like a sesame bagel. 

Children's Art Biennial

Yesterday we taught an hour-and-a-half workshop at the Children’s Art Biennial, a volunteer opportunity that came through the American Consulate. This is the first year of this impressive, well-run event. Hundreds of kids from all over the city were bused to a large exhibition building in the same complex as the Istanbul Modern Art Museum. An extensive, professionally presented exhibition of children’s art filled the galleries, and students participated in hands on workshops. While we were there, we saw a traditional paper marbling class, and a drawing inspired by music workshop.

Our workshop was structured around Iznik tiles. The students saw images of Shane’s sculpture and the Islamic arabesque that inspired it. The presentation included images of the natural landscape around Iznik, and lots of images of the natural forms used in tile motifs: flowers, plants, birds, water and fruits. The students then made paper tiles that they composed into a large assemblage at the end of the class.

We began the class with fifteen students, but more students keep wandering in and joining the project, until the group had nearly doubled. These students were all around eleven years old, and extremely well behaved. They were an enthusiastic group and we had a great time with them.

Prepping for the lecture

The arabesque in Turkish ornament

Demonstrating the tecnique

Composing the field of tiles

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Istiklal Caddesi: Istanbul's Famous Pedestrian Thoroughfare

Istiklal Caddesi (ist-tick-clowl ja-des-ee) is a wide pedestrian shopping street stretching for about a mile and a half through the heart of Istanbul’s most European neighborhood, Beyolou. A top site of the city, it is always crowded with shoppers, diners, protestors and those just looking for a stroll away from the all-present automobile traffic of Istanbul.  If you want to pay near-Western prices for clothes and shoes, this is the place to come. Electronics are one of the few items in Turkey that are more expensive here than at home, and Istiklal has lots to offer. There are many stores with familiar names, including an upcoming Virgin Megastore. Missing American coffee? There are several Starbucks and Gloria Jeans here.

But to judge Istikal by the number of Western shops lining the thoroughfare would be to miss the genuine personality of this historic avenue. While we are not huge shoppers, we often we find ourselves walking along its length, peering down all the little side streets that branch off of this main artery. One narrow, slopping lane has the best cup of Turkish coffee we have ever tasted. A decorative iron arch naming Balik Pazari marks the street where we eat midya dolma, the cinnamon-spiced-rice-stuffed mussels that we love. Wander past the midya dolma restaurants just a little further and come to the un-touristed and fabulous Cumhurriyet, the meyhane where we celebrated Shane’s fortieth birthday. Take another turn and come to our favorite dessert spot, where we are already old friends with the owner. Istiklal is home to the chocolate fountain, another sweet treat favorite, the strange “wet burger” (we have yet to try,) and many red pushcarts roasting chestnuts. Our favorite food guide, Istanbul Eats, concentrates a lot on the neighborhoods around Istiklal, and reading the mouth-watering descriptions in its pages has prompted several trips to the area.

Istiklal is more than food and fashion, though. It is lined with consulates, schools and galleries. The best bookstores in the city are here. We saw the Harry Potter movie in a strange little screening room off of Istiklal, and got haircuts in one of the many salons.

Over the weekend, we were delighted to see all the holiday lights of Istiklal. Christmas is (sort of) celebrated here after all. The idea that holiday decorations and carols can make an appearance for a mere week is fantastic - all the magic without becoming tiresome. Happy holidays from Istiklal Caddesi.

A normal day on Istiklal Caddesi. Flags in the middle of the crowd mark a group of protestors.

Taxsim Square, the upper end of Istiklal Caddesi

"Happy New Year" decorations over the street, and a garlanded trolley embedded in the mass of humanity.

The historic red trolley is (almost) the only vehicular traffic on Istiklal.


The little antennaed Turkcell guys that usually light the street have company this week.

Christmas arrived this week on Istiklal Caddesi

Here is something you wouldn't see in the Grand Bazaar: posted prices. (Pashminas they have.)

One of the chestnut roasting push-carts to be found all over the city, especially along Istiklal.

Lovely display of roasted chestnuts, ready to be weighed and sold in little paper bags.