Tag Archives: Istanbul

Friday seven – Things I’ve learned


  1. I love cooking on a gas stove.
    We have one here in the condo and it’s the first time I’ve ever used for any length of time. Fast heat, fast off, and easy to clean, the only negative is the retractable vent hood that rises from just to the rear of the cooktop that is really loud. We will definitely be putting a gas cooktop in our kitchen when we renovate.
  2. The name “Istanbul” is actually a variant of  “Constantinople”.
    I mean, we all knew that the original name of that city was Constantinople, but i didn’t know that one came from the other. I met a Turkish jewellry vendor in the Granville Island Public Market and we chatted for a while. He told me that people shortened “Constantinople”, dropping the first syllable, and the word morphed to Stamboul, or Istanbul. (When I checked this out on wikipedia, it turns out to be something of a simplification, but I had never made the connection before.)

    Bracelet by Murat Senemoglu, Turkish silnersmith at Granville Island Public Market.
  3. I can live without owning a car, in the right place.
    I took out a car2go for a spin the other day with Alex, when we went to Granville Island. I love the fact that you just drop it off when you’re at your destination and pick up another one when you want to continue your trip. The smartphone app makes it so easy to reserve a car (optional), unlock it, and manage your account. Driving (and parking the Smart fourtwo was a little unnerving at first, but actually quite enjoyable.)
  4. I’ve missed Netflix.
    With the renovation of our main living area and some reconfiguration of our electronics, we haven’t had easy access to Netflix on our living room television since the summer. The setup here in the condo is a Samsung Smart TV and so we have access to a pile of streaming services from one device. (I don’t really like watching video on my computer or ipad. I can’t explain it. could be my age. Could be that I prefer the big screen and better sound.)  I finally watched the NFB film on Healey Willan that our choir director recommended (very interesting), and have been catching up on some series (Master of None (Aziz Ansari), Marvel’s Jessica Jones). Last night I watched a riveting doc on Iris Apfel, who reminded me immensely of my Grandma Winer (Vera Elstein) and makes me want to pump up the colour in my wardrobe (and the size of my accessories.)
    Here’s a trailer:
  5. The best part of genealogy is meeting new relatives.
    I’ve said before that a blog is like “cousin-bait” to genealogists. If someone googles and ancestor’s name and your blog comes up, bingo! I’ve recently had an email exchange with the wife of a cousin on my father’s father’s side. We’ve exchanged some information and I hope to meet them in the near future as our geographic circles intersect on a couple of fronts. (We both have relatives in each other’s home towns.) Briefly, my grandfather (David Berkman) had a sister Sadie who married a Samuel Rubenstein and lived in Hawkesbury Ontario, a predominantly francophone town between Ottawa and Montreal. I’d very much love to see pictures of David, Sadie, and their parents (Myer and Adela), and get any further info that might help me with my research.
    Here’s their marriage registration:

    Marriage of Sadie Berkman and Samuel Rubenstein, Lachine QU, 1909, Beth Israel.
    Marriage of Sadie Berkman and Samuel Rubenstein, Lachine QU, 1909, Beth Israel.
  6. I want to read more internationally.
    I posted about this a couple of weeks ago, but am pleased to learn that one of the Goodreads groups that I belong to is starting a new sub-group called “Around the World” where we will be reading from various areas for the first six months of 2016, and then concentrating on Asia in the second half of the year. I’m starting to get my list together. In January we will be focussing on North and West Africa, and I’m hoping to read some Egyptian and Nigerian writers that have been on my radar for a while. In particular, I want to read The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. And maybe Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. If anyone would like to join me in this venture, consider joining The Roundtable on Goodreads!
  7. I can’t live happily without sunshine. Temperature doesn’t matter.
    Since I’ve been out here in Vancouver, we’ve had a few periods of sun. It’s nice to be able to live in a midweight (waterproof) coat.  I picked one up with Vancouver in mind at the Royal Winter Fair from the London Trading Post booth. (They’re located in Bobcaygeon ON and have a lot of great British gear.) But honestly: the gorgeous views, sea wall, and mild weather, cannot make up for the lack of regular sunlight. It makes me feel sluggish and like I want to cocoon at home. And my knees? I’ve had to up my Naproxen since I’ve been out here to compensate for the dampness.

That’s all folks!

Seven Quick Takes – Getting my groove back

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Well, my darling readers, it’s been an incredibly busy summer with house guests, travel, TIFF, and a fancy-schmancy wedding. Fall is my favourite season and it’s time to get back into my routines. My Istanbul blogging stopped as TIFF began, and I hope to get a couple more posts up about that trip (that seems so long ago at this point.) I have been out of email and phone touch with many of you, but that will change. Promise.

    Rami and Rita's Wedding Reception
    Rami and Rita’s Wedding Reception
  2. I’ve started two programs at my local community centre. On Monday afternoons I’m taking a Feldenkrais class. It promises to help me work out some of the body kinks I’ve been feeling as I age. I can remember seeing posters about it back when I lived in Ottawa and have wanted to try it for years. The first session was excellent and I’m looking forward to more. I also went to my first yoga class (ever) yesterday. The instructor has been teaching for 40 years and it’s the Sivananda style of hatha yoga (quite classical, if I understand correctly.) While most of the class are experienced (and many have been coming to the same teacher for years), the newbies like me are being brought on board slowly. I’m looking forward to learning to breathe more intentionally and to strengthen my core. The centre is walking/biking distance from home so that’s a bonus.
  3. I’m working my way through the Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for book club next weekend. It’s a big book, chosen by the group to read over the summer when we only had one meeting. I’m about two-thirds of the way through. While I’m planning to keep my comments (and review) to myself until after we meet, let’s just say that if there was a trivia game based on Thomas Cromwell, I’d stand a good chance of winning.
  4. I have so many small projects around the house to get to. This week, I’ve been mainly focussed on getting through stacks of laundry and ironing. I need to reorganize my books now that they’ve been (randomly) moved to our new study (in our old dining room) and get my new crafting area set up in a recently vacated bedroom. I have a couple of sewing projects ready to go once I get a table. I also need to finish my travel diary/scrapbook from Istanbul. We’re looking for a round table for the study, and we want to replace our built-in oven that buzzes randomly (and continuously) due to a wonky clock and very poor temperature control. It’s 20+ years old so I don’t feel bad about not repairing it.
  5. How’s Michael doing at McGill, you ask? I have no idea. I haven’t spoken to him at any length since he started classes so I need to have a good chat with him this weekend. I’m going with the no-news-is-good-news scenario. I know that he had a couple of lessons with his teacher in August but am anxious to hear what ensembles he’s in and how the classes are going.
  6. Alex is settling into life in our basement, working on his Master of Management Analytics, and tutoring math part-time. Yesterday, he had road-trip to London Ontario to tour a brewery as part of his program (for his supply-chain management course, or so he says.) He saw some vintage delivery vehicles there.

    1935 Labatt Streamliner (Canadian Design Resource)
  7. This weekend Zouheir and I will be attending a meeting of the Bootmakers of Toronto (Sherlock Holmes Society of Canada) as a guest of a member. Author Terry Fallis is speaking and I hope to get one of his books signed (if I can find it in my currently non-alphabetised home library.) I loved his first two novels (The High Road and The Best Laid Plans, now getting made into a TV Miniseries), and I read Up and Down in early summer. The Sherlock Holmes connection in the latter brings him to the Bootmaker’s meeting. Oh, and Sunday is Word on the Street so I’ll be checking out this years offerings down at Queen’s Park.

And that’s all folks! Hope to be more regular with the posts going forward.

Bookish Istanbul

Took a little break from blogging. On Friday, I spent a few hours with a friend, discussing our nascent business opportunity and touring the Alderwood/Mimico landscape of her childhood (and first novel.) On Saturday, Zouheir and I kinda lazed around, attempting to get over the jetlag and digestive disruption that are still present after our return from Istanbul. We also took a trip out to the consignment fabulousness that is The Singing Lady to look at a couple of round tables for our study.

Today, I spent most of the morning organizing my outstanding TIFF schedule, namely, queueing online for tickets to the Jason Reitman Live Reading of Boogie Nights, and preparing my list for placing my Daytime Ticket Package order tomorrow morning.

But back to Istanbul.

In most European cities where English is not the first language, you can get by with basic English and some hand-waving. I was a little surprised to find that, in Istanbul, very few service workers seemed to speak any English.  I ascertained from Turkish friends that students learn English in school, but typically not from particularly well-qualified teachers. So in was lovely to run across some English bookstores.

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At Galeri Kayseri, the charming young shopkeepers were excellent salesmen. One noted me browsing a series of mysteries set in Istanbul (Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen Mysteries) and quickly pulled out the first of the set, Belshazzar’s Daughter. The other fellow grabbed a copy of The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, saying that I might enjoy a historical mystery. Finally, as I was at the cash, the first guy hands me a copy of Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga, exclaiming that customers had emailed them to rave about this autobiography. It had been blurbed by Harold Nicolson and Sir John Betjeman, so I kind of HAD to buy it. As I finally protested that I could not possibly buy a large coffee table book on Istanbul, he took my credit card and while it was processing, asked me “Are you a teacher?” I replied, “No, I just like to read.” He grinned back at me.

The other bookish outing was a trip to the Book Bazaar. Adjacent to the Grand Bazaar near the Beyazit metro station, vendors have new and used books, antique and reproduction prints, and other paper items.

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I picked up a novella by Orhan Pamuk (The White Castle) and a print that humoured me.

The one other bookish purchase I made was after the visit to the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Sultans for more than 400 years up to the time of the move to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856. In particular, I was rather intrigued by the harem (family living quarters) and picked up the exhibition catalogue which had been reduced from 100 TL to 25 TL ($13) at the museum shop.

In preparation for my trip, I picked up a couple of novels set in Turkey. Before we left, I read The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael Lukas. Set during the tenure of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (late 19th century), it’s the story of a young Jewish girl from Constantia (on the Black Sea in what is now Romania) who travels to Istanbul with her father and discovers that she has a special gift. A charming novel of magical realism, it served as an excellent introduction to the period.

I’m currently finishing up The Flea Palace by contemporary Turkish author Elif Shafak. Each chapter, some of the very short, are all titled with the flat number and names of a family living at the Bonbon Palace, a rather run-down apartment building in modern Istanbul. Their stories intertwine as they seek a solution to a common problem: people dumping garbage in their garden. We learn their stories, what has brought them to Istanbul and to their current circumstances. She is an important voice in modern Turkey and I will certainly read more of her oeuvre.

Istanbul – Getting around

We did most of our travelling in Istanbul on foot and on the metro. My Up Band registered 8 to 12 km per day which pretty much blew my daily goal out of the water. We were in a very walkable neighbourhood with shops and restaurants close by.

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One of the traveller’s best friends is a clean, efficient metro system, and Istanbul has this in spades. Made up of subways, tramways (streetcars), buses, ferries, and a funicular, we used it extensively to travel throughout the area. You can buy an Istanbulkart at local street level vendors and then load it up at the metro stations. Without a card, a ride is 3 TL ($1.50) and transfers cost the same. WIth a card, the initial fare is under 2 TL and transfers are even cheaper. It makes sense to have each person carry their own card to effect the savings for transfers.

The stations are clean and well-lit, the subway cars are modern and air-conditioned, pristinely clean, with stop announcements and excellent signage.  The funicular takes you from Taksim metro station to the Kabataş ferry terminal and other important sights in that area.

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The other thing I loved about the metro system is that there is lots of art. Everywhere.

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I didn’t take a photo of the card readers, but I grabbed this one online. When you press your card onto the reader, the screen tells you what you just paid and how much is left on your card. These are on buses, in metro stations, and at ferry terminals.

Istanbulkart reader

As I mentioned in my previous post, we used taxis a few times, but unless you are going to a well-known venue or somewhere local, the drivers were not very knowledgeable and rather difficult to deal with, not only because of the language barrier. That being said, a 45 minute ride to a restaurant one night cost 45 TL which is $22, pretty cheap for that length of a ride.

Renting a car? We didn’t even consider it. Between the construction and roadwork throughout Istanbul and the sheer volume of traffic, It’s not for the faint of heart.

Turkish word-of-the-day: Füniküler = funicular

Turkish pronounciation-of-the-day:  ş is pronounced sh, which is why author Elif Şafak’s name is written Shafak in English.

Istanbul – How we got there

We’ve wanted to travel to Istanbul for a number of years, but it was always second to Beirut, Zouheir’s home town, and we hadn’t managed to get there either, mainly due to security issues that would arise every time we got serious about booking travel.

Earlier this year, we traveled through Istanbul on our way home from Malé and decided to get serious about spending some time in Turkey. So we booked our flights to Istanbul and told Zouheir’s siblings that we were planning to be there and would love to see anyone who wanted to join us. Our boys were unable to join us on this trip due to academic responsibilities.

Zouheir’s younger brother, Jacques, who lives in Brest, France, and some of his family decided to join us for the week. His sister Marie-Louise and her family (who live in Lyon) were spending time in Lebanon this summer and joined us for a few days, as did Zouheir’s cousin Pierre who lives in Beirut, but who I knew from his days in Montreal.

Most of our group in front of Blue Mosque

We travelled on Air Transat which is unusual for us. Normally, we fly Air Canada because Zouheir has frequent flyer status which provides for excellent amenities, but the difference in ticket price was too great to justify. We opted to pay $200 (total) to upgrade ourselves to Air Transat’s Options Plus program which helped us get through check-ins quickly, book seats in advance, and get some on-board amenities. They were direct flights, stopping in Montreal each way, and the long leg averaged 8 hours flying time.

We booked a three-bedroom apartment in the Şişli area that was satisfactory but not without it’s problems, including lack of basic supplies (bath mats, coffee maker) and terrible wifi. On the plus side, it allowed us to walk to the metro, shops, restaurants, and cafés, and so was very convenient.

Living area of apartment
Living area of apartment

Our flight there was uneventful, and we had pre-arranged transportation to the apartment from the airport. This was an unknown (at the time) godsend as it turned out that the taxi drivers that we encountered had great difficulty finding our apartment, and most other places that are at all off the beaten path. Coupled with language issues and what appeared to be a stubborn streak in these men, our experience with Istanbul taxis was uniformly negative. (Even when presented with a GPS map on a cellphone, they preferred to stop the taxi, get out, talk to another driver, and continue on, circling helplessly around.)

Turkish word-of-the-day: taksi = (you guessed it) taxi

Our flight home was delayed by six hours because of this happening on the incoming flight. (For the first time in my life, I stretched out over three seats at a relatively empty gate waiting area and napped.) We arrived at 1:30 am yesterday morning, and Alex picked us up at Pearson. We got into the express lanes on the 401, not knowing that there was road work going on and we weren’t able to get off the highway until Leslie, a long, slow 45 minutes later. It was just us and a lot of tractor trailers. It felt like we’d been travelling for days by the time we hit our beds.

Istanbul was a fantastic experience, and I’ve got lots of posts and pictures to come. It’s truly a timeless city, from the Roman aqueducts and cisterns, through Byzantine mosaics and palaces, to a thoroughly modern transit system and textile industry.  European and Asian. Religious and secular.

I’ll leave you with a couple of shots of a lunch we had on the rooftop of the Cozy Pub, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque.

L to R: Me, Marie-Louise, Cecile, William, Chrisophe, François, Joan, Solveig, Eli, Jacques, Ann-Dominique
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.

Making a travel diary

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve purchased an online class to learn how to make funky diaries/journals/commonplace books. In particular, I’m excited about our upcoming trip to Istanbul in mid-August and want to have this done by then.

Pattern (eventually inserted between front and back covers) will produce journal approx 6″x9″ with a front flap.

Mary Ann Moss blogs and teaches at Dispatches from LA, her online schoolhouse/kitchen table/photo studio and her images are simply inspiring. I made myself finish up a framing project that I’d started some time ago so that I could proceed with this with a clear conscience. Unfortunately, in a major purge, I got rid of much of my fabric stash, so took a trip to Value Village and picked up a red and gold sari, some red an gold moiré fabric, and a piece of upholstery fabric with a paisley pattern. I have a bag full of leather scraps from another project.

It’s very much a scrappy, plan-as-you-go project. Here I’m laying out some scraps on my inside and outside covers to see how it’ll look.

The next few steps will involve rough appliqué, sewing the inside and outside covers together, and ironing. Then more appliqué!
I’ll post again when I have my cover done.

Summer Reading

There’s a new Goodreads summer reading challenge coming up at the Bookish group. These are tough challenges and I’ll be starting on my second one since I joined. Some of the basic requirements are that books must be at least 250 pages long and can be nothing remotely smelling of Young Adult or …sniff… junk. (And I am not in any way implying that these are synonymous, although there is some overlap.)

The challenge involves reading tasks (as I think I’ve explained before) that are worth different point rewards. Bonus points are also involved. The tasks were just announced and I’ve started my planning. The actual reading must happen between July 1 and September 30, 2013, but challenge groupies get planning well in advance. I admit to staying up until 3:30 this morning searching for books (when I should have been reading my book club selection due tomorrow….).

Summer is one of my favorite times to read, and I have fit a number of my must-read books into the challenge parameters. For example, we’ll be reading Wolf Hall for book club so it’s there. I’ve got a couple of novels set in Turkey as I’ll be in Istanbul for a week in August. I received Arlene Dickinson’s book Persuasion for Christmas a year and a half ago and very much want to read it, so it’s on the pile.

If you enjoy Goodreads and like to discover new and sometimes challenging books, consider joining the Bookish group. If you’re a Bookish member and planning to join the challenge, feel free to use my spreadsheet. Otherwise, have a look at what I will be (trying) to read this summer.

Reality check: this is something of a fantasy list. I only read half the books I planned for in the last challenge, but at least I’m never scrambling for ideas.

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Seven Quick Takes Friday

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. Yikes, it’s suddenly gotten chilly again! A couple of weeks ago, I committed to losing the socks for the season, but I may need to dig out a pair today.
  2. Attended a concert at Michael’s school last night, featuring the Senior Stage Band (in which he plays bass trombone) and the Jazz.fm Youth Big Band in which he played for two years. As well as a chance to showcase these terrific young players, the concert raised money to send one of the high schoolers to Jazz Camp at Kincardine this summer. Michael was asked to sit in on a couple of tunes with the Jazz.fm folks, as well as their special guest, saxophonist Alex Dean, who sat in with both bands and treated us to some incredible solos.
  3. My book club is meeting chez moi this Sunday afternoon. I’m preparing a Venetian-inspired light lunch for our discussion of The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (which I still have to finish.)
  4. English: Zen Habits Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)I joined the Sea Change Program hosted by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. It encourages people to pick up a new habit each month. I have been meeting with my accountability group via Skype once a week to discuss how we’re progressing on this month’s habit: writing. It has certainly gotten me back into the daily writing habit and I’ve enjoyed meeting some new people who are working on the same changes. Next month’s habit is “Simplify your day” which is not so much an issue for me, but we’ll see what he has to offer.
  5. We need to get visas for our trip to Istanbul in August. I am very excited about this vacation. Z and I will be meeting my brother-in-law, his wife, and two of their grown children, and the plan is to rent a centrally-located apartment. Unfortunately, our boys can’t join us this time, but I’m sure we’ll be back. This trip has been on our bucket list for a long time.
  6. Next week I will head back to Ottawa to work some more with my mother to organize her new apartment and sort through the stuff in the condo. In particular, I want to go through a lot of old photos and annotate them with names, places, stories. I should pick up a few decorative boxes to sort and store these items.
  7. Henry’s and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra are offering an interesting course for photographers. It’s June 4, from 10 am to 1 pm. Attendees will have an opportunity to shoot in Roy Thomson Hall, and work with musicians in rehearsal and back-stage. Funds raised go to support the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra, of which Michael is an alumna. More info here.
    By sookie (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
    Roy Thomson Hall

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